FALMOUTH — State Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth, and Cathy Nichols, her Republican challenger, agree that the issues most on voters’ minds in Senate District 25 this fall are taxes, bringing civility to Augusta and ensuring good job opportunities for young people.
Where they disagree is how best to address these issues and others facing the state.
Senate District 25 includes Falmouth, Cumberland, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, Long Island, Gray and part of Westbrook. Breen is seeking her third term in the state Senate, while this is the first time Nichols has run for elected office.
“It’s really important that we grow our workforce and provide the education and training (needed) as we grow the economy,” Breen said.
For her, that means supporting and growing economic sectors where Maine already has an advantage and there’s already thriving industry. Growing the economy doesn’t mean giving tax breaks to large corporations to bring their operations here, Breen said.
She’s also focused on environmental protection, property tax relief for seniors and addressing the opioid epidemic.
Breen said she’s particularly concerned about what she called the dismantling of the federal Environmental Protection Agency, and the inaction on climate change both here in Maine and on the federal level.
“Casco Bay is really struggling with acidification and warmer waters,” she said, which is of concern because the bay “is such a critical economic driver.”
When it comes to how business is done in Augusta, Breen said the state needs a break from the unpredictability and chaos caused by Republican Gov. Paul LePage, which she said has been bad for business, as well as how the state functions.
During the next budget season, Breen said she’s hopeful the Blaine House and Legislature can “come to the table and negotiate in good faith,” particularly since LePage is term-limited and there will be a new face in the governor’s office.
Breen did not say where she stood on state referendum questions being posed to voters, which include a citizen’s initiative that would create a universal home care program by imposing a 3.8 percent tax on those making $128,400 or more.
The most expensive bond question is a $106 million investment in Maine’s transportation infrastructure, including highways and bridges, along with ports and harbors and freight and passenger railroads.
Another bond question would spend $49 million to modernize Maine’s public universities “in order to expand workforce development capacity and to attract and retain students to strengthen Maine’s economy and future workforce,” the ballot measure reads.
But Breen did say “what voters decide should go forward,” including the Medicaid expansion referendum approved in November 2017 that LePage has refused to implement by arguing there’s no funding mechanism in place.
Breen doesn’t believe LePage will ever allow Medicaid expansion, which would help cover the health care needs of up to 70,000 Mainers. “I hope the next chief executive will respect the rule of law,” Breen said.
She also disputes LePage’s assertion that there’s not adequate funding for expansion saying, “I co-authored the bill that funded the expansion and met all the requirements.”
To ensure more civil political discourse, Breen said it would be up to the next governor to “respect that the office is a separate, but co-equal branch of state government. I would like to see a governor who comes to the table and works with the Legislature in good faith.”
Breen said that attitude would be necessary “in order for state government to get back on track and be predictable and productive and meet its basic obligations.”
If she’s re-elected, Breen said she would focus on reintroducing a bill designed to reduce the gender wage gap, making transit more “robust and available,” expanding broadband access to the internet and protecting a woman’s abortion rights on the state level.
Breen said voters should choose her to represent them in Augusta because of her “history of service to the community, my voting record and for being always approachable, respectful and ready to have a conversation.”
Nichols said she is running for the state Senate because she believes “Maine needs economic stability and better policymaking.”
She also believes her background in regulatory analysis and her history of building relationships with business leaders across the state would make her a good lawmaker.
“I would bring a different perspective, different views and awareness (of the issues) to the Legislature,” Nichols said.
She’s against “increasing income taxes without justification” and strongly believes that the current referendum process, which she said has been hijacked by outside influences, is one of the key reasons for the discord in Augusta.
“Getting both parties to work together will only happen if we get the referendum process under control and back in the control of Maine people,” she said. Overall, Nichols would like to see subject matter restrictions on citizen petitions in particular.
That would be especially important if there are tax impacts, she said. “When these questions are related to taxes they should be handled by policymakers who would make better decisions” about how the money is spent.
Nichols also feels the press has played a part in the political divide because it focuses more on the differences than the similarities between lawmakers. What she wants is to “focus more on starting in the middle and creating compromise.”
Nichols also said politicians could better communicate with constituents by “thoughtfully explaining their decision-making.”
She said the state budget must be balanced and expressed some concern over bonding for capital projects because it could lead to “significant debt that could have damaging economic impacts.”
“People may want improved infrastructure, but I feel we need more background and information on just why it’s needed,” Nichols said.
Nichols does not support the Medicaid expansion measure approved by voters last fall and said if “able-bodied people can pay, even just a little, they should do that” because it provides for better accountability.
She believes LePage has done a good job and “is trying to do right by the state,” while also saying that lawmakers have a responsibility to “stay on task (and) be concerned with their manners and how they interact.”
Nichols particularly doesn’t approve of what she called “patronizing and disrespectful” discourse.
“People do need to be held accountable for what they say and how they say it,” she said, adding, “I’m very open-minded and interested in listening to others’ opinions.” Nichols also believes it’s better to “keep personality out of it and stick to the policy.”
If she’s elected, Nichols would like to serve on the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee because “we can’t grow our economy without helping out our large energy users. Such things as lower energy costs are critical for industry.”
She would also like to work toward job development and said such opportunities could be a “good step toward addressing substance use (disorder and opioid addiction), as well.”
Nichols said voters should support her because “I will be more responsible with their hard-earned money and I would look at all the details and prioritize spending,” especially on expenditures related to social services.
“I don’t want people to be down and out. I really want to help people make the most of themselves. I can also make a real difference and would help people to see and understand both sides of an argument.”
Residence: 15 Falmouth Ridges Drive, Falmouth
Political Affiliation: Democrat
Family: Married, two children
Occupation: State legislator
Education: Bachelor’s degree from Tufts University, master’s in education from University of Illinois at Chicago
Experience: Two-term state senator, ranking member of the Appropriations Committee; six years on the Falmouth Town Council, twice serving as chairwoman; board member at Spurwink behavioral health providers.
Residence: 41 Stapleford Drive, Falmouth
Political affiliation: Republican
Family: Married, two children
Occupation: Former volunteer policy outreach coordinator for the Manufacturers Association of Maine
Education: Bachelor’s degree in soil and water conservation from University of Wisconsin-Madison and Certificate of Policy Analysis from Muskie School at USM
Experience: One term on Falmouth’s Recycling & Energy Advisory Committee