PORTLAND — Three candidates under the age of 33, none of whom has held elected office, are vying to represent District 118 in the Maine House.
Republican Kevin Casey, Green Independent Tom MacMillan and Democrat Matt Moonen are on the ballot in next month’s election.
Three-term Rep. Jon Hinck, D-Portland, chose not to seek re-election in order to run for the Democratic nomination to replace U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe. Hinck lost that primary to state Sen. Cynthia Dill, D-Cape Elizabeth.
District 118 includes Portland’s West End and Libbytown, and is widely considered one of the most liberal districts in the state.
Casey, 32, is the oldest of the trio. “We’re all new to politics,” he said. “We each bring a fresh perspective (to the race).”
Casey’s said his perspective is rooted in his libertarian leanings – he’s a supporter of former presidential candidate U.S. Rep. Ron Paul – and a “broad background” as a technology consultant.
“I bring a sense of fiscal responsibility,” he said. “I really want to make sure that all Mainers keep more money in their pockets.”
MacMillan, 26, is a substitute teacher who is proud of his roots in Portland, where his family has lived for five generations. A graduate of Portland public schools and a board member of the West End Neighborhood Association, he said “people have been responsive to the idea of having a real Portlander in the Legislature.”
MacMillan also said he is proud of his campaign’s efforts to address topics that are relevant to the district. “I’ve designed my campaign literature to be very specific,” he said. “I want more people in the district to understand the importance of the issues, rather than party affiliation.”
Moonen, 28, is a former political director for EqualityMaine and was an activist with Maine Citizens for Clean Elections. He is also vice chairman of the Portland Democratic City Committee, and said he feels this experience distinguishes him in the field of young candidates.
“When (the race) is over, this district will be represented by someone young, with a new outlook. But with youth comes mistakes,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons I feel my experience makes me the best combination for the district.”
If elected, Moonen said he would take a hard look at the tax incentives the state has used to attract business to Maine.
“This state has a history of creating tax breaks, but there’s been little follow-up to see if they actually succeed,” he said. “There needs to be more accountability. If (tax breaks) aren’t working, get rid of them.”
At the same time, he said he believes Maine needs to do a better job of educating workers if its economy is to improve. Maine colleges represent an “opportunity to match the skills of our workforce with rising industries,” such as biotechnology, he said. And that takes continued financial support from state government.
“I’m not convinced we can cut our way to prosperity … making an investment in our future is just as important as balancing our budget,” Moonen said.
MacMillan shares a similar view. “Education is a thermometer for society,” he said, explaining that the quality of education determines other qualities, such as the health of the state’s business environment.
But he is more adamant about the need for better health care.
“The No. 1 thing we can do to improve business in Maine is to lower the cost of health care and make it more affordable for everyone,” MacMillan said. “Small businesses create the vast majority of jobs in Maine, and they shouldn’t have to worry about how they’re going to provide health care.”
Casey takes a different approach to improving the state’s economy. “Business needs an environment that is easy to navigate and plan for,” he said.
He suggested the state must be more service-oriented, more accountable and more consistent in its enforcement of regulations. “Business owners need to be able to look at the state as a whole and know what to expect,” Casey said.
Greater accountability is also important in the state’s social welfare programs, Casey believes. He said he would work to reduce spending that is wasted through fraud and abuse in MaineCare, the state Medicaid program.
“I want to make sure those resources are there for the people who really need them,” he said.
Reducing fraud and abuse would require better communications and more transparent operations within the state Department of Health and Human Services, Casey added. “The left hand needs to know what the right hand is doing.”
MacMillan, too, would like to improve accountability in the state’s spending on social welfare programs. “It’s not a matter of spending more or less,” he said. “It’s a matter of how resources are being spent.”
Still, he said, Maine must continue to support these programs.
“The need to invest in our social safety net is more important than ever,” MacMillan said. “If our goal is to get people out of poverty, we have to fulfill our promises to them. If we’re supposed to be helping the working poor, we need to provide resources that allow them to work.
“In the wealthiest country in the world, no one should be left on the street.”
As a legislator, Moonen said he would have to explore any changes to the state’s social welfare programs in depth.
The problem of fraud and abuse, for example, “is something that does happen,” he said, but requires further study. And changes in safety-net services “can’t be made just by elimination,” he added. “That just sends the problem somewhere else.”
Further study is also necessary when it comes to considering alternative energy sources, according to Moonen.
“I’m open to all ideas,” he said. But when it comes to the merits of any specific source of energy, “for now, I’d defer to the scientists.”
Casey said he also is open to a variety of sources, although he is concerned about the “underproduction” of wind power as well as the environmental concerns that have been raised about the siting of wind turbines. He also said that tidal power would allow the state to “capitalize on its geography.”
Regardless of the technology, developing new energy sources will take a “balance of public and private investment,” Casey said. “The state needs to be open to jump-starting these new ventures, and not look at them merely as an expense.”
MacMillan also would like to see the state increase its energy investment – but to channel that investment into what he called “democratic energy.” That might include subsidies that help residents to produce their own electricity through solar power.
“At a time of appalling debt, it doesn’t make sense to force homeowners to take on more of it in order to purchase solar panels,” he said.
MacMillan also would encourage greater state support of Efficiency Maine, the publicly funded energy conservation program. “The best form of energy is energy not used,” he said.
Casey, MacMillan and Moonen all said they plan to vote “yes” on Question 1, the statewide referendum to legalize marriage licenses for same-sex couples.
Moonen, the former EqualityMaine political director, perhaps summed up the positions of the three candidates.
“It comes down to fairness,” he said. “LGBT residents of Maine should have the same rights as every Mainer.”