SCARBOROUGH — Political newcomer and Democrat Theodora “Theo” Kalikow is challenging incumbent Republican Rep. Karen Vachon in House District 29, which covers the eastern part of Scarborough.
Kalikow, 75, moved to Scarborough two years ago with her wife, Deb Kalikow-Pluck, after a career in higher education, including being president of both the University of Maine at Farmington and the University of Southern Maine.
Kalikow said she made the move to Scarborough to be nearer “the best grandchildren that ever were,” and is running for office for the first time because “we need more Democrats to be a countervailing force against the governor.”
She said that the most important thing for the Legislature to do in considering whether to take any type of action against Gov. Paul LePage for his threatening voicemail to state Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, is to “follow the rules.”
“I would certainly support any action allowed by the Constitution,” she said. “I would certainly add my voice to do something, if it can be done.”
Speaking about the opioid crisis facing Maine, Kalikow said, “It’s important not to react in a punitive way,” and said that funding for treatment and support is “really critical.”
When asked what the No. 1 problem is facing the Legislature, she said, “I’m not sure I would it put it that way, as a problem. But people want to be comfortable that the government is spending their money in the right way,” adding that “accountability is also very important.”
Kalikow backs Democrat Hillary Clinton for president.
“I’ve been a Hillary supporter since forever,” she said, noting that she was disappointed when Clinton lost the 2008 nomination to Barack Obama.
She said Clinton’s “overall record is pretty amazing. She’s concerned about women and children around the world and did a great job as secretary of state. She’s certainly got the experience and is certainly qualified. It’s highly overdue” that Clinton be elected president.
There are six statewide referendum questions on the ballot this fall ranging from a measure to increase the minimum wage to one that would require background checks for private gun sales.
“I support most of the referendum questions,” Kalikow said.
She called “the gun thing a public health problem” that requires a different approach. “We can’t have one atrocity after another and keep doing the same thing.”
As an educator, she supports the referendum question that would impose a tax on earnings above $200,000 annually if the Legislature fails to support education at 55 percent.
“But,” she said, “I also know that ‘Oh my God’ moment when opening my property tax bill. We have a habit of chasing the latest fad and spending money without understanding what the outcomes will be.”
Kalikow said, “I hope to be on the Education Committee and if so, I will pay attention to what the educators say.”
She is also in favor of legalizing the use of recreational marijuana, “as long as appropriate safeguards are in place. Regulation and taxation seem better to me than criminalization.”
Kalikow supports the increase in the minimum wage.
“Try to support a family on $7.50 an hour,” she said. “Are you kidding? If you work 30 to 40 hours a week, you should be able to pay your rent or feed your kids.” Without a livable wage, she added, society will pay the costs in other ways.
In addition, Kalikow will support the ranked-choice voting measure, arguing that “sometimes you need to be a laboratory for democracy.” She will also support the bond questions, which would invest in infrastructure, as well as research and development.
Kalikow said that for important local constituent issues, one of the priorities is providing Maine youth with a good education and how to best pay for it.
She said that overall, it’s important for legislators to be able to “work together in a respectful way” and to encourage “good citizen engagement. I am knowledgeable and have good connections around the state. I am ready to use my social capital and put it to work for the people of Scarborough.”
Vachon, 57, has served one term in the House, on the Health and Human Services Committee. She works as a licensed health insurance agent and previously worked as a national account manager in the pharmaceutical industry, as well as in public relations at Scarborough Downs.
Vachon called the Republican governor’s most recent behavior “disappointing and unacceptable.” On the other hand, she said, “The public needs to know there is very little that the Legislature can do. Unless the governor has committed a criminal offense, the Legislature cannot impeach (him).”
In addition, Vachon said, “The Legislature has no authority to censure members of the executive or judicial branch. I serve in the Legislature to get things done, not to participate in political theater,” which is what she would call any attempt to correct LePage when the Legislature reconvenes in January.
In dealing with Maine’s opioid crisis, she said, “There is no quick and easy fix. We learn more about addiction and its related unintended consequences every day (and) just throwing money at a crisis doesn’t solve the problem.”
Addressing the issue “is the work of society, not just the Legislature,” Vachon said. “We must begin to learn, and develop policy that prevents addiction in the first place. That starts with a better understanding of who is afflicted by addiction and why.”
She added, “To address the addiction crisis at hand, it needs to be treated with understanding and compassion. We need to de-stigmatize addiction and put a very real face to this.”
When asked what the No.1 problem facing the Legislature is, Vachon said, “Jobs.”
“When people visit Maine, they have an ideal vision of (the state as being) natural, holistic, healthy and clean. Our job-creation efforts are anything but. We need to fix this.”
She said, “We (can’t) throw Band-Aids at dying industry in the name of job preservation. I believe in people far more than I believe in government programs. Maine is a state made up of a wonderful, resilient and resourceful people, able to build a natural, organic and sustainable economy by effectively tapping into and maximizing Maine’s resources and people.”
Vachon would not say who she’s supporting for president.
“I’m not happy with our choices for president (and) how I personally vote in the presidential race has no bearing on the work I do in Augusta,” she said. “There is a reason every voting booth has a curtain. I honor everyone’s right to privacy and voting is a private matter.”
On the six referendum questions on the statewide ballot, Vachon said she would vote no on the five measures related to changing the current laws, but would vote in favor of the borrowing measure.
“Not only is marijuana a gateway to addiction, I believe it will impact tourism,” Vachon said. “When you add marijuana shops, bars, candies, sodas to the product mix, your customer will change.”
Vachon also doesn’t support the measure to impose a new tax on earnings above $200,000 to support education. “If Question 2 passes, Maine will be the second highest taxed state in the country,” she said. “People who earn higher incomes are more mobile. They will take their money and their business and move out of state.”
Regarding background checks for gun sales, she said, “Passage of this referendum will take law-abiding gun owners and turn them into criminals.” She also believes imposing background checks on private gun sales would be “nearly impossible to enforce.”
Vachon doesn’t support the minimum wage increase and said it’s “a bad idea for Maine. If it doesn’t force the closure of businesses, especially in northern Maine, it will increase the costs of goods and services. This is a job killer and I will vote no.”
She questioned whether ranked choice voting is legal under the state Constitution, and encouraged voters to read the legal opinion on the issue written by Attorney General Janet Mills.
When asked about the most important local constituent issue, Vachon said, “The health and well being of my constituents is the reason I serve, and I cannot pinpoint one specific issue because they are all interconnected. Some of the issues I am working on include, drug addiction legislation, safe well water legislation, kidney donor legislation (and) improved third-party advocacy for health care and health insurance, to name just a few.”