Legislative veteran, newcomer square off in Senate District 28

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PORTLAND — Democratic state Sen. Anne Haskell has tenure in the Legislature extending over three decades, and has worked for state agencies.

“I got to know a lot of people who make the state run on a day-to-day basis,” she said.

Green Independent Owen Hill, meanwhile, is a neophyte making his first run for elected office and vowing to help fix a system he sees as unresponsive and in disrepair.

“I think our political system is incredibly broken,” he said. “We have a country that is dominated by big corporate parties.”

Hill and Haskell are seeking a two-year term in the new Senate District 28, which encompasses Portland west of Forest and Allen avenues, and the southern half of Westbrook.

Haskell

Haskell, 71, served three terms in the House in the late 1980s and early 1990s, representing Gorham. She then became the director of appointments to boards and commissions for former Gov. and current U.S. Sen. Angus King, and served on the Maine International Trade Center, established by the Legislature in 1996.

Haskell eventually moved back to her childhood home on Higgins Street in Portland and served three more House terms before her election to the Senate in 2012.

“I don’t think the things I care about or am interested in change depending on who wins,” Haskell said of the gubernatorial race between incumbent Republican Gov. Paul LePage, Democrat and current U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, and independent Eliot Cutler.

Haskell vowed to continue the fight to accept federal funding to expand MaineCare programs, which has been vetoed by LePage because he believes the state cannot afford what will ultimately not be covered by federal funding.

Reducing energy costs is critical to business development, Haskell said, and she said she supports state funding to develop new power sources.

“I have an understanding of how companies get started and fund themselves. Alternative energy is an investment that is going to pay off,” said Haskell, who is also vice chairman of the board of Gorham Savings Bank.

Concerned aging Mainers are getting squeezed by increasing property taxes and wanting them to “age and thrive in place,” Haskell suggested a local tax formula based one-third each on income, sales and property taxes could relieve the burden of towns and cities dependent on property taxes as the largest source of revenue.

“We need to be adjusting our thinking as the oldest state in the nation to efficient resources for people to be able to stay in their homes,” she warned. “We are never going to be able to pay for the nursing homes.”

Haskell said she is wary of the charter school movement and its affect on public school funding.

“There is never going to be enough resources and I worry about the impact of charter schools on the resources,” she said.

The current Legislature has shown it can work together more than what she saw 25 years ago, Haskell said, noting it has pulled together on budgets and bond issues in the face of LePage’s opposition.

“I still firmly believe we work together cooperatively and in the best interests of Maine,” she said. “I have worked with some very capable and willing people.”

Hill

Kennebunk native Hill, who now lives on East Lawn Dive and works at Xpress Copy on Fore Street, said he sees a dire need to change the system and real hope it can be done.

“In Portland and Westbrook, wherever ordinary people stand is where I stand,” he said. “It is not just the frustration or anger, it is the hope when you connect with people about these issues outside this corporate conversation.”

A graduate of Hunter College in New York, Hill has been part of the Marriage Equality movement and a precursor to the Occupy movement in New York, and promised to focus his time and energy on economic justice.

A supporter of both a $15-per-hour minimum wage and higher income tax rates for the wealthiest Mainers, Hill said future minimum-wage increases should be tied to the rate of inflation.

He said he would like to serve on the Taxation Committee Haskell now leads.

“It’s not like we don’t have money,” he said. “I would be uncompromisingly in favor of raising taxes on the very wealthy and making sure they don’t go up on working people,” he said.

Hill also supports legalization and taxation of marijuana. “It should be treated the same as alcohol,” he said.

Conceding that doubling the state minimum wage to $15 per hour could be a burden initially for smaller businesses, Hill said those same businesses could benefit from the increase in money in the economy.

“The biggest thing we can do to help small business is to beat back big business,” he said. “The biggest issue facing small business is the economy of scale.”

Green Independents are also best able to support aging Mainers because of their steadfast support for sustaining and increasing Social Security and MaineCare, Hill said.

“I think we have a tremendous amount to offer seniors,” he said.

To reduce energy costs and reliance on fossil fuels, he said he supports funding development of alternative energy and providing assistance to make older homes more energy efficient.

“I support making Maine an energy exporter with its abundant natural resources, using wind and solar especially,” he said.

Hill said he offers the non-corporate approach to politics because Green Independents do not accept corporate contributions.

“I would say what sets me apart is I am not tied to a corporate party,” he said. “The way we are fundamentally going to bring back democracy is to democratize our economy and redistribute wealth.”

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

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Maine Senate District 28

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.