CAPE ELIZABETH — Town Council Chairwoman Martha “Molly” MacAuslan, an independent, is challenging incumbent state Sen. Rebecca Millett, a Democrat, for the state Senate District 29 seat that covers Cape Elizabeth, South Portland and part of Scarborough.
Both candidates live in Cape Elizabeth and have been involved in the local political scene.
MacAuslan, 57, is finishing her first, three-year term on the council and is not seeking re-election. This is her first campaign for state office, although she has a record of community service.
That includes serving as head of the library building and planning committees, as well as serving on the board of Waynflete School in Portland, and as a board member of the Cape Elizabeth Education Foundation.
MacAuslan has also volunteered at Maine Medical Center and served on the board of the Yarmouth Chamber of Commerce. She and her husband, Varney Hintlian, own and operate a real estate investment and development firm; they have two daughters in college.
Until this election MacAuslan was a registered Republican, but she said she’s running as an independent because “I don’t want to divide people,” and “I want to broaden my reach. I don’t want to limit myself with a party affiliation.”
Even so, MacAuslan said she still firmly believes in the Republican Party ideals of limited government, responsible fiscal policy, and being individually responsible for actions and choices.
In addition, she said, “The Town Council is nonpartisan and the issues are complicated enough without all the political machinations,” and that the people of District 29 “deserve a representative that reflects all their needs.”
MacAuslan added, “I’m pretty straightforward in all my positions.”
MacAuslan said she was motivated to run for the Legislature by the statewide bond question that would tax earners of $200,000 or more a year at a higher rate to help offset the costs of education. The tax would only be applied if the state does not support the total costs of education at 55 percent.
“I’m staunchly opposed” to this measure, she said. “It does not accomplish the goal and there are big, unintended consequences. We want our highest earners to stay here and pay their taxes.”
MacAuslan said she would not support the Legislature taking any kind of corrective action against Gov. Paul LePage, whose recent behavior includes leaving a threatening voicemail for Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, that had many calling for the governor’s impeachment.
However, she said, “I am concerned about (LePage’s) behavior as a human being, and if we see more of the same, I would be open to reviewing the options.”
MacAuslan said taking steps to stem the opioid crisis in Maine is a “pro-life issue” and one that needs to be addressed on multiple levels. She said she believes in providing funding for treatment and said that Narcan, a drug used to reverse opioid overdoses, should be “readily available.”
MacAuslan said education and outreach are key to ensuring that Maine’s youth don’t become addicted to opioids. She also believes “we need to revisit pain management and the use of prescription drugs.”
In terms of the biggest problem facing the Legislature, MacAuslan said, “from the outside looking in, there’s a sense that it’s not as fully functional as it ought to be,” particularly in its relationship with the governor’s office.
“I’m sad about the level of political discourse and the seeming inability and unwillingness to talk with each other. In kindergarten we’re taught you have to get along. The dialogue we have going on is unproductive and doesn’t serve the people well,” she said.
However, she also believes “it’s not impossible to get things done” as long as “there’s enough energy and focus on bringing people together.”
MacAuslan said it’s unlikely she will vote for either major party candidate for president and said she’s most interested in the campaign of Libertarian Gary Johnson. Whoever wins, she said, “I will take the world as I find it and try to improve it.”
MacAuslan is split on the six statewide referendum questions. She said she doesn’t support the school funding measure and is unsure about Question 1, the proposal to legalize and regulate recreational marijuana.
On Question 3, which would require background checks for private gun sales, MacAuslan said, “I’m not insensitive to the argument that it’s being driven by out-of-state funding and people from away telling us how to live our lives.” In addition, she’s not sure the proposal does what its backers hope it will.
MacAuslan said she is “generally in favor of increasing the minimum wage, especially for entry-level and young workers.” However, she said Question 4, which would raise the minimum wage to $12 by 2020, “troubles me because it’s not adjusted for deflation” and it also doesn’t address the underlying issues.
MacAuslan is in favor of Question 5, which would allow ranked choice voting and is in favor of Question 6, the bond referendum that calls for investment in research and development, as well as roads and bridges.
In terms of the most important issue she would address if elected, MacAuslan said “education is a priority.” She also argued that “as elected officials, we should be working hard and be responsive” to the needs of the constituents.
Millett, 53, has served two terms in the state Senate six years on the Cape School Board. She’s running for re-election, she said, “because there’s still a lot of work to be done.”
Millett has served on the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee and said, “there are a number of very important initiatives I would like to follow up on,” including improving access to early childhood education and college affordability.
She said she also wants to continue to work toward increasing teacher salaries, arguing their pay should be commensurate with the value of the work they perform. “Too many teachers are forced to take second jobs and that’s not OK, we can do better,” Millett said.
She’s also running for re-election because she has a strong interest in strengthening the laws dealing with domestic abuse. “We also need to continue to push the conversation on renewable energy and protecting our environment,” Millett added.
When asked if she would support corrective action against Gov. LePage, Millett said, “I am running for the state Senate and that’s an important distinction, because it’s the House that would decide on whether to initiate any proceedings.”
That said, Millett would “review whatever is presented” if the House chose to take action. In addition, she said she is “very dismayed and concerned” with the governor’s behavior and said the threatening voicemail, in particular, was “unacceptable.”
“I hold myself to the highest standards and the governor should, too,” Millett said.
In terms of the opioid crises facing Maine, Millett said the governor has created “a false choice” between enforcement of drug possession laws and treatment of those addicted.
“We need a two-pronged approach,” she said, adding, “I am tired of this issue being politicized. These are human beings (in trouble) and we need to support solutions on a bi-partisan basis.”
Millett said that the No. 1 problem facing the Legislature is not dysfunction, arguing that, “we have shown over the past four years that we can work together and pass budgets” and other bills.
She believes that the economy and the poverty rate in Maine are the biggest challenges facing the state. “We need to do more things like supporting investment in small business and providing workforce development.”
“We know what we need to do,” Millett added. “We need to keep forward progress.”
Millett did not initially want to say who she is supporting for president, arguing that it has nothing to do with her work in the Legislature.
However, she did say, “I am supporting (Democrat) Hillary Clinton.” While acknowledging that Clinton is “not perfect,” Millett said she is fully qualified for the role of president.
Millett said she supports all of the statewide referendum questions, except the one that would legalize recreational marijuana.
While she supports allowing the use of medical marijuana, Millett said “we’re not where we need to be in terms of the science” on recreational marijuana and said, “we need to be very cautious.”
Millett said raising the minimum wage is “part and parcel to addressing” the issue of poverty. “If you’re making $12,300 a year, you cannot live or meaningfully contribute to the economy,” she said.
Regarding background checks gun sales, she said, “our current system doesn’t keep dangerous people from having guns. We need to close that loophole.”
“I am continually dismayed and heartbroken hearing report after report of women being shot (to death) by their partners. This has to stop,” Millett said.
On ranked choice voting, Millett said it just makes sense “to ensure that whoever is elected has the majority of the vote. That’s democracy at it’s best.”
And, on the borrowing measure, she said the borrowing is “essential to keeping Maine competitive.”
Millett is also fully in favor of the referendum question that would tax those making more than $200,000 at a higher rate to help cover the costs of education.
She said the measure would provide both much-needed property tax relief and also ensure educational equality. “No matter what zip code you live in,” she said, “it would provide better access to quality educational programs.”
Millett said she’s not hearing that one particular issue is of the most importance to voters she meets, but did say people are talking about “the addiction epidemic, property taxes and solar energy.”
Overall, she said, “I’ve enjoyed working in Augusta and being the senator for this district. I have found the Legislature to be professional and respectful and for the most part we are all there to work for the people of Maine.”
Martha “Molly” MacAuslanRebecca Millett