SCARBOROUGH —House District 29 Republican Rep. Karen Vachon, who has served two terms, is being challenged by Democrat Shawn Babine, a longtime local councilor.
Health care is a top priority for both candidates as the November elections approach.
Babine has served on the Scarborough Town Council for five terms and is a clean elections candidate. He has raised $6,500 as of the most recent filing with the Maine Ethics Commission. He supports Medicaid expansion and state funding for opioid prevention.
Vachon has submitted several bills aimed at health care and the opioid crisis, including starting syringe exchange programs, and is running a traditionally funded campaign. She has raised $2,200 as of the latest filing report by the Maine Ethics Commission.
Babine, a sitting town councilor, said if elected to the House, he will remain on the council for enough time to allow the town to find a replacement. His term ends in 2020.
Babine grew up in Bath and moved to Cumberland County during college, settling in Scarborough after graduation. He has lived in Scarborough for 26 years and served on the school board for two years and for five terms on the town council.
The councilor sought to represent Scarborough in the Legislature in 2006, but was narrowly defeated in his bid in District 127 seat against Republican John McDonough.
His time on the council has shown he’s not partisan, Babine said. “It’s about the issues and finding the right, or a better solution. I’m not looking to be another peg in the system. I’m looking to find solutions that impact Scarborough – I’m Scarborough’s representative,” Babine said of his philosophy if elected.
Babine’s number one priority is funding for education. He said property owners are tired of being taxed when it should be funded by the state at 55 percent, as adopted by the Legislature in 2009 but never implemented. Babine said 55 percent can be attained – likely through a tiered system – over a two-year biennial budget.
As a councilor, he has passed 12 town budgets and seen firsthand the effect unfunded mandates and pushing services from the state to municipalities has on a community, giving him a unique perspective of how the towns and state work together. Babine said Scarborough is one of the fastest-growing communities in Cumberland County and funding for town operations, such as the fire and police departments, remains a challenge when the state reneges on its share.
With the state retaining a $100 million surplus at the end of the fiscal year, Babine contends there needs to be a balance between funding, improving or increasing services and saving and maintaining a robust rainy day fund.
Babine said the state needs to make more of an effort to retain younger residents and expand technologies that enable them to return home and raise a family.
“We’re not doing that,” he said, suggesting that investing in renewable energy and other technologies to create jobs is part of the solution in retaining the younger generation and growing the state’s economy.
Babine said he also wants to take an inclusive look at the problem of health care. While many may see insurance as the solution, he said insurance is only part of it. The cost of health care and the infrastructure of medical offices and hospitals needs to be examined as well, said Babine, who added the entire system needs to be questioned, including who garners the profits.
That being said, Babine strongly supports universal health care. “I said from day one, I believe in Medicare for all,” he said. “There needs to be a universal health care system, period.”
He said the responsibility of the Legislature, as stewards for the community, is to provide for everyone, and there are many people in need of affordable healthcare.
Part of addressing the opioid crisis involves expanding Medicaid to serve those without insurance, Babine believes, along with funding prevention programs through legal settlements with tobacco companies and legal action against big pharmaceutical companies.
Regional advocacy services, such as Scarborough’s Operation HOPE, should also be state funded, he said.
Education, law enforcement training and the judicial process itself must be reworked to deal with the crisis, he said.
Babine is not supportive of Question 1, which seeks to provide home-based help for seniors and people with disabilities, regardless of income. The measure would be funded by a new 3.8 percent tax on those with an adjusted gross income of $128,400 and higher.
“We need a comprehensive solution for our health and home care problems in Maine,” he said in part, but added that creating another layer of governmental oversight “on an already poorly functioning health care system and by adding another layer of taxes on the working class isn’t a solution,” he said.
Despite the challenges facing the state, Babine says residents are being pulled away from the real issues. “We’re being distracted by issues that are degrading to the state. We need to bring human kindness back to the Legislature. It’s not acceptable,” he said.
“I really believe that Scarborough is one of the best communities. I love where I live, my neighbors, and the people I go to church with. It’s a great community.”
Karen Vachon has lived in Scarborough since 1986 and has served two terms as the town’s representative in Augusta.
The issue of affordable access to health care is the nature of her work, and what led her to run for the Legislature, she said.
In Vachon’s first term, she introduced a Medicaid ombudsman bill to facilitate and point people to all available services, including charity care and similar resources provided by hospitals and Federally Qualified Health Care centers, funded for the uninsured to provide primary care.
The bill passed, survived the governor’s veto, but was never funded.
Vachon said she does not support Medicaid expansion because it doesn’t allow funding to serve the most vulnerable population — the disabled, people who have dependents or pregnant women.
“It is really designed for the poorest and most vulnerable,” she said of the program, and others covered through expansion could be served through other avenues, such as charity care.
If people were helped through charity care at hospitals instead of treated in the Emergency Department – which they may see as their only option – then a segment of the population would be covered, Vachon said.
She said what’s frustrating to her, is knowing that if policymakers in Washington who make decisions on health care had the same insurance as the market offers, key problems would have been fixed years ago.
When health care is politicized it plays into everybody’s emotions and fears, said Vachon, and a majority of people are sinking their teeth into “sound bites” and don’t really see how complicated the system is.
The opioid epidemic is also an area where she has focused a lot of her work in the Legislature. She said the state loses a person every 21 hours, and the average age of those who overdose is 41.
“The travesty in all of this, is how we address and look at addiction,” Vachon said.
“We have way too many people in jail treated as criminals when they should be looked at as people who are suffering from a disease. We need to change our attitude on addiction,” she said.
She has introduced legislation addressing the epidemic, she said, including a blueprint state treatment plan, modeled after Vermont, which would put in place a statewide system of care where the goal is to provide rapid response and to get people into treatment.
She also passed a bill that earmarked $6.7 million for the uninsured, to cover the population that is without care because of addiction or mental health issues.
It took three attempts to fund clean needle exchanges, but now there are four in the state. Vachon said it is a public health issue statewide, and the exchange is a low entry barrier to for people to come with no stigma, have a conversation, and enter into treatment.
Like Babine, Vachon is not in favor of Question 1. “It’s going to have a huge impact on our state, especially on small businesses,” she said, adding it would make Maine the third-highest taxed state, behind only California and Hawaii.
She said 70 percent of people over age 65 will need long-term care, and the revenue raised is not enough to provide universal home health care for everybody 65 and older.
Name: Shawn Babine
Party Affiliation: Democrat
Family: Wife, daughter
Occupation: Background in banking, consulting, project management
Education: Master’s degree in Economics from Southern New Hampshire University
Political/civic experience: Five terms on the Town Council, two-year term on the school board. Political and legislative director of American Legion Dirigo Boys State program.
Website/social media: https://www.facebook.com/babineformainehouse
Name: Karen Vachon
Party Affiliation: Republican
Family: Husband, three sons
Occupation: Health insurance agent
Educatin: Bachelor’s degree in business management from New England College
Political/civic experience: Two terms as House District 29 Representative
Social media: https://www.facebook.com/vachonforhouse