YARMOUTH — Rep. Janice Cooper, D-Yarmouth, is facing a re-election challenge from first-time candidate Dennis Welsh, an independent trying to unseat Cooper in House District 47.
The district includes Yarmouth, Chebeague Island and Long Island.
Republican Richard Snow withdrew from the race in August.
The past six years, Cooper said, have been “an honor and a privilege.” Now, she feels she’s “on top of her game,” running for her fourth and final term representing the district, as limited by state law.
“I understand the issues and understand the needs and wants of my constituents,” Cooper said. “I think I have a really good feel for the community.”
Over the past three terms, Cooper said she’s been proud of the work she and the Legislature have done for various sects of the district and state, such as changing the definition of “exempt lobster boats from bankruptcy proceedings,” which she said was “old and outdated” and excluded most lobster boats used for trade today.
Cooper said, given another term, she’d like to focus on “unfinished business,” including the expansion of Medicaid.
“I will be among those pushing for a budget which includes the funding for that expansion,” she said. “We do have the money … There’s more money in the till than (Gov. Paul LePage) chooses to acknowledge.”
Cooper said treating those with opioid addictions requires “long-term treatment,” more accessibility to clinics, and an “attitude change,” which will come with more education around the disease.
Many of these addictions, Cooper added, stem from a dependency on prescription medication prescribed by physicians who were “misled” by the pharmaceutical companies into “believing that these drugs weren’t addictive.”
“They have a lot to apologize for,” she said.
Chebeague and Long islands, Cooper said, have their own unique problems, such as getting broadband internet, that she’d like to help with if she’s given another term.
“It’s essential for their economic health because they’re isolated,” she said.
One major issue that Cooper sees facing Yarmouth is property taxes, which she thinks could be lowered by increased aid to education and revenue sharing.
Cooper said she will be voting in favor of Question 1 on November’s statewide ballot, which would provide home-based help to seniors and people with disabilities, with the caveat that she’d hope the Legislature would amend it immediately.
As it’s written, Cooper said, the problem is the lack of government oversight and a means test to apply. Funding the program through payroll taxes, she added, is “not a good way to do it.”
“I think home health-care is a service that Maine needs because we’re an older population,” Cooper said.
Cooper said she doesn’t feel “entitled to re-election,” but that she’s “earned it.”
“Everyone has to come in as a newbie at some point, but I have acquired the skills that make me more valuable, I think,” she said.
Welsh said he has long been interested in Maine politics, but this year the “climate felt right for his candidacy.”
“As an independent, I’m working really hard to build bridges and bring people together,” he said. “Too often, legislatures settle into their party seats to the exclusion of any good ideas coming from across the aisle …”
If he’s elected, Welsh said two of his top priorities would be protecting the environment, in part by utilizing renewable energy, and advocating for Maine’s immigrant population.
This, he added, is an important step to grow and strengthen the state’s economy.
“We need to be more efficient with our support,” he said. “Let’s welcome immigrants in, help them get their feet on the ground and provide the assistance needed to get them into the workforce quickly.”
The biggest issues facing District 47, which Welsh said go hand-in-hand, are finding and retaining workers and an aging population.
The district’s state aid for education is also at the forefront of Welsh’s mind.
“I would work hard to get that where it should be,” he said. “I think there will be an opportunity with the new legislature and a new governor to make that happen.”
Welsh said he is not in favor of Question 1 on Novembers ballot.
“There are those in the legislature that continue to support creating new taxes on those that, in their perception, are wealthy,” he said. “These people are the economic drivers of our communities… (and) we run the very real risk of incentivizing them to leave Maine for lower taxed states.”
With that said, Welsh realizes the importance of home health care, but thinks it should go through the typical legislative process to make it “fair and equitable.”
“The referendum … is so fraught with problems,” he said, noting issues with transparency, privacy and the set wage, which he called a “low bar.”
“The four gubernatorial candidates don’t support this and that’s saying something,” he added.
Welsh said he’s also in favor of the Medicaid expansion, saying it “makes financial sense” and was “overwhelmingly supported” by voters.
In terms of the opioid crisis, Welsh feels a holistic approach to treatment is “the way to go.”
“That’s for who’s struggling now. Going down the road, we need to get at the root of the problem,” Welsh said. “I know the medical profession is reviewing its opioid usage in pain management and that’s a great start.”
Welsh said he feels he’s the candidate for the job because “Yarmouth is looking for a change.”
“In order to lead, you need to be out front,” Welsh said. “There are so many issues affecting us all today in Maine and Yarmouth deserves a strong, independent voice that will actually be out front leading, not simply voting the party line.”
Residence: West Elm Street, Yarmouth
Party affiliation: Democrat
Occupation: Retired attorney. Third term state representative.
Education: Bachelor’s from Vassar College; law degree from Yale
Political and civic experience: State representative for past six years; congressional staffer for Rep. Tom Allen; assistant counsel for US Congress, Committee in the judiciary.
Website/social media: www.facebook.com/RepJaniceCooper/
Party Affiliation: Independent
Family: Married, three children
Occupation: Commercial photographer and director
Education: Bachelor’s in economics and English from St. Lawrence University
Political/Civic Experience: Founding member of the Yarmouth Bicycle & Pedestrian Committee, former 317 Main Street board member, Yarmouth Ski Club board member and treasurer, Youth leader and Sunday school teacher at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church, former Yarmouth Little League baseball coach