Business, welfare views separate House 113 candidates
PORTLAND — Two attorneys, one a veteran of Maine politics and another a newcomer to the political arena, are opposing each other in the Maine House District 113 election on Nov. 6.
District 113 includes Portland's North Deering neighborhood and the portion of Falmouth west of Interstate 295.
Rep. Mark Dion, D-Portland, the first-term incumbent, is an attorney with Berry & Dion. Dion, 57, served for 12 years as the Cumberland County sheriff and was also a deputy chief of the Portland Police Department.
He said his experience as a police officer and problem solver make him a good choice for his district.
“If you look at the clip files from my career, I’ve tried to demonstrate a willingness to collaborate with people and achieve consensus,” Dion said. “I think part of being a police officer is that you’re a problem solver. You can call 9-1-1 and we can’t institute a commission or ask for a study, people want some answers and relief right away.”
Dion's challenger, Portland Republican Jeffrey Langholtz, 52, is an attorney in private practice in Biddeford. He said he decided to run for office because he is interested in the economic welfare and prosperity of Maine’s middle class.
“I’m concerned with the problems that middle class people are having; hard-working people that don’t have enough money in their pocket,” Langholtz said. “I think what distinguishes me from (Dion) is that deep abiding concern with what’s going on in the middle class, working people (in Maine) and what we can do to make the state better for them.”
Both candidates said they support alternative energy, but their opinions vary widely on business and social services.
Business in Maine
The two candidates both acknowledged that Maine is not the most business-friendly state, but they disagreed about how to improve the business climate.
Langholtz said he feels the state needs fewer regulations and reduced taxes, while Dion believes that municipalities are to blame, not the state.
“Sometimes what gets in the way of (business) is all these various home-rule concepts that make it hard to provide services,” Dion said. “The hurdle that’s hindering businesses is the variety of municipalities and all their individual rules."
He said the state should lead the way in creating a climate where there are consistent regulations across town lines.
“Everybody has a world view that begins at home, yet businesses, their world view is always regional, always much bigger than the municipality,” Dion said. “How we decide a footprint of a building in Falmouth should be the same way it is decided in Portland and South Portland if (businesses) are going to make an investment.”
Langholtz disagreed and said the key to creating a healthy, vibrant business community is reducing state regulations and taxes, along with allowing people the freedom to do what they need to do in order to make their business succeed.
“We have to be sure that the people that make economies grow are taken care of, and what I mean by that is people like you and me need to have more money in our pockets so we can spend,” he said. “We need to focus on individuals making a difference and allowing people’s creative abilities to blossom. I think letting people do what they want to do without too much interference and regulation, without too many taxes, will create the jobs that we need.”
Langholtz said the self-reliance of Mainers will allow this sort of model to succeed, but that culture has been “severely denigrated” and business success requires that sort of creativity and ingenuity.
Dion said he believes the problems with social welfare in Maine stem from the Department of Health and Human Services being too big of an umbrella. Langholtz said the problems lie with giving the people who take advantage of the services the education required to get out of a cycle of dependency.
Dion said that if he is re-elected he wants to take a closer look at the DHHS to look at how the agency could be restructured so that the most effective programs are properly funded and those who truly need assistance receive it.
“If we have limited dollars then we need to focus on where we are most effective, but I think as a government we have to recognize there are some populations that need our help in spite of the cost,” he said.
Dion said that the question remains how to pay for the services, and he wants to look at potential bonding for social programs, which would ask service agencies to measure progress using evidence-based practices. He said that although the business may not be profitable, the payoff is in the well-being of Maine’s citizens.
“I think I like to remember what some have said about government; government does what is not profitable for the general public to engage in, but it doesn’t make it any less valuable,” he said. “There may not be any profit in taking care of severely challenged children or the emergence of dementia in the elder population or making sure every kid gets to school with breakfast; there may not be a plus side to that financially, but socially I think it needs to be done.”
Langholtz agreed that services should be given to those who are in need, but he said there are some hard choices to be made and the state needs to be careful about the money it gives away.
He said that he sees a cycle of dependency every day though his work, where people rely on the state and have kids supported by the state, although they aren't employed. He said that the biggest problem with that is that taxpayers are paying for the benefits given to this population, instead of funding educational programs for them.
“People like you and me who are working have to pay for that,” Langholtz said. “It’s terrible for the people who are getting the money because they never learn real values, they never learn how to work. I think we should give people the skills, vocational programs, give them a chance to learn a trade, to get some kind of education that’s practical and then they can make a difference and they can help themselves.”
He said the LePage administration has made some inroads in improving the welfare system, such as imposing a five-year limit on certain services, but more needs to be done in order to help people get back on their feet without relying on the state.
“We do need to take care of each other,” he said. “I’m not saying people should be out on the street on their own when they’re having a hard time. Bad luck happens to everybody and sometimes people need a helping hand and it’s nice to have some kind of net to help people, but they have to get back on their feet if they can.”
Both Dion and Langholtz said they support the development of alternative energy in Maine, but have questions over the funding of such programs.
“I think there is a role for alternative energy and I’m behind it, but we have to be very careful about how we spend money and how we support those things,” Langholtz said.
He said that he is not a scientist and would like to talk with experts on the subject to find out what would be best for the state in terms of electricity rates.
Dion said that the state should invest in subsidizing alternative energy; otherwise it will never get off the ground.
“Any new technology takes investment and takes some government sponsorship to get off the ground,” he said. “We shouldn’t pick winners and losers but we need to realize that we need to invest across the spectrum.”
Dion added that the state should invest in oil dealers to ensure that their technology is as efficient as possible. Additionally, he wants the state to explore the options of pellet technology and tidal energy.
On the polarizing question of same-sex marriage the candidates agreed that all people should be entitled to the same rights as traditionally defined couples. But they disagreed on whether or not they should be allowed to marry.
Dion said he is in complete support of same-sex couples' right to marry and said that as a police officer he never got called to a home because couples were loving too much, and it shouldn’t be up to him to define what love is.
“If relationships work, kids work, families work, the neighborhoods work, everything is better off,” he said. “Mainers, we respect independence, how you want to define a loving, committed relationship really should be left to you.”
Langholtz said that he wants to see same-sex couples granted the right to equal protection under the law, but he would rather see this happen through civil unions, not marriage, because marriage is a religious ceremony, which should be separate from government affairs.
“Marriage is a religious ceremony and union. As such, it should not be legislated,” he said. “Our country was based on the premise of separation of church and state and I believe we need to recognize that this is a religious issue and not a governmental one. This is an extremely sensitive topic and we must not assume that a position on gay marriage is a position on homosexuality.”