A Conversation with Becca Shaw Glaser

Wed, 10/14/2020 - 3:43pm

 

OPINION

The following is the unedited transcript of Becca’s questions, and my answers to those questions sent today, October 8, 2020

Q: First of all, why did you choose to move to Rockland and what do you love about living here?

I chose Rockland by accident, at first. My mom’s side is from central Maine (Skowhegan and Waterville). I have family In the area, and my parents have had a place on the lake in Camden for 25 years. In 2014 my dad, who is getting older, wanted to look at a condo for sale.  We went to the broker’s office and they had one of those newspaper inserts that just showed this pond with three rock islands.  I asked him about it and he said, “oh that’s this quarry house we have down in Rockland.”  I had been spending more and more time in Camden and regretted not being able to come in the winter.  So I had just bought an MBNA garage in Camden and thought maybe I should buy a house, then I could come up with my dog all year long.  And my dog just loves the pond.

Rockland is a place that keeps unfolding in front of you.  ‘Camdenites’ look down on us sometimes, but I think they have it wrong.  Rockland is way more fun, way more creative, and far more diverse.  The deeper you dive, the more things you find.  It is just a great small city.

Q: You identify as a modern-day “progressive Republican” and you are interested in reforming the party.  I notice that you gave donations to Bernie Sanders’ 2016 candidacy. What inspired you to support him?

Bernie Sanders was the only candidate I supported in 2016. I believe I gave $250 to him three or four times. I think I just liked him, and he seemed more authentic to me than the other candidates.  I have been a republican for almost 30 years, with a brief flirtation with Ross Perot’s Reform Party – I think I sent him $50 when I was 18!  That was my first foray into politics…

Despite being a republican, Some of Bernie’s ideas and the way he presented them appealed to me.  He campaigned for free state college for everyone.  I thought to myself, we already educate people for free for the first 18 years.  If someone proposed adding one year of college, or free state school, I can get behind that.  Because we benefit as a society from education and we should have great state institutions.

Q: Who are the current-day Republicans in office that you would call “progressive Republicans” who you admire and look to for guidance?

I’m not sure I could name any.  Bear in mind, I’m not a political animal.  I don’t watch the TV news, I don’t read blogs or the major newspapers and magazines. I don’t really participate in anything national, I’ve never been a delegate or anything.  So, I don’t look for guidance to anybody.  I do my own thing.

Q: What is the first legislation you will introduce?

A friend’s sister died in a tragic boating accident, and it rocked our community. I wanted to do something, so I drafted a bill to regulate night operation of pleasure boats on inland waters.  I didn’t just write a summary in plain language.  I actually wrote a bill, referencing the Maine Revised Statute.  I don’t know if I will submit that one, because I haven’t gotten any feedback on it.

Probably the legislation I would like to submit is a bill to create competition in the electric industry in Maine.  I would propose that the State buy back the grid, but rather than setup a single non-profit operator, setup a competitive territory system wherein operators that don’t maintain service levels and customer approval ratings territory.  I.e. one would lose a chunk of the state and a better operator would gain it.

The reason for it is that I’m not a fan of monopolies – whether privately owned or publicly owned.  Monopolies are inefficient, costly, and do not innovate.  When companies have to fight to win your business, prices fall and service improves.  Take the cell phone market for example.

Q: How is today’s Republican Party consistent with the values you highlight in your campaign literature, “civil rights, the environment, and education”? And if it isn’t, what are your plans to move it in that direction?

The republican party is a membership organization.  And like the democratic party, it’s a plural one.  Someone recently forwarded me the Maine GOP platform (I had never seen it).  It doesn’t’ contain much that is controversial.  Republicans are strong when it comes to certain civil rights – free speech, right to property, and also educational freedom (e.g. home schooling).  But what they have lost is the progressive principle that government has an active role to play in areas like trust busting, and restraint against abuse of the commons.  What’s simple about politics is you don’t need much to start.  Just a soapbox to stand on and good ideas.  So I focus on good ideas to solve real problems.  I may be naive, but I think that’s the first step.  And this first run is very much a test of whether my message resonates.  We shall see.

Q: When most people hear the term “civil rights” they think of the civil rights struggles of Black people to overturn segregation and other forms of systemic racism, and LGBTQI rights. What are you referring to when you embrace the term for your campaign?

Well certainly the struggle for civil rights has a broader umbrella than how you describe it.  It also includes the struggle for Native American rights, Pacific Islander rights, Asian rights, and other minority groups, and women’s rights.  Civil Rights can be understood as distinct from Natural Rights.  Natural Rights are the rights that come with being born, e.g. the right to breathe, to speak, to worship.  Anything you can self-provision would be defined as a Natural Right.  Civil rights are the legal rights that are conveyed as part of the social compact between government and the governed.  In the United States, they are enshrined in the constitution, in particular the first ten amendments to the constitution known as the Bill of Rights.  I would say you have to include some of the later amendments, for example the fourteenth and fifteenth amendments.  So Civil Rights are the legal rights under the social compact, as recorded in the Constitution, and the struggle for civil rights is the movement to ensure that the promise of civil rights under the constitution are realized by all. 

Q: Why do you think I have yet to see a Republican household displaying a sign that simply states “Black Lives Matter”? Can you unequivocally state that “Black lives matter”?

Well, I can’t speak for what you see.  But I have been to very many households that are a political mix of Republicans, Democrats, and Independents.  I would be surprised if at least some don’t have a BLM sign.  I suspect there are few R-only households that do.  Mostly because of the fundraising that the organized portion of the BLM movement collects and donates almost exclusively to Democratic candidates.  I don’t have the figures, but it’s a lot.  In that regard, it’s like asking why D-only households didn’t have tea party signs.  The two movements function[ed] in part as fundraising vehicles that served the opposite party. There are also philosophical differences that I don’t think can be bridged, today, particularly around family structure.  And I can unequivocally state it.  Black Lives Matter.

Q: Should wealthy people be taxed more in income, wealth, and estate taxes than they are now?

Wealth taxes are a bad idea.  Estate taxes are ineffective.  Not in principle, but because of the problem of regulatory avoidance.  People can shift wealth away or change the way they calculate it.  Another problem is the swing created in government revenues under a wealth tax. What happens in a recession when wealth falls?  Government revenues plummet.  And governments need stable income.  So, there are better ways.

When I talk about regulation, I try to make a point that the regulator should not only consider the direct aim of the policy or rule, but also understand what the regulatory avoidance behavior will be.  For example, in the 1950’s the corporate tax rate was high.  The first order analysis would be that corporations would pay more in tax, calculated by the tax rate times earnings.  But corporations started engaging more in more in regulatory avoidance, for example loading up salaries, and benefits, and shifting personal to corporate expenses in order reduce stated earnings above the line.   And so the second order effect of a high marginal tax rate was that the effective tax rate fell as avoidance took hold. 

Hence the primary problem with estate taxes.    There is a cottage industry of professionals to manage the estate taxes, and the more one raises the estate tax, the harder taxpayers and their consultants will work to reduce it.    A much better way that should be considered instead is a value-added tax, which more closely captures a portion of GDP.  It’s easy to collect, and hard to avoid. It also better aligns the interests of government and the taxpayer.  Both parties want receipts to rise because it means economic activity is going up.

Q: Do you believe women have the right to control over their own bodies and reproductive choices, in all cases?

Yes I do.

Q: You have written that you support the CMP pipeline in Maine, claiming that it is “environmental;” however, most, if not all, environmentalist groups in Maine, along with the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, are opposed to it. Why, then, do you still support it?

I think you might have this one mixed up.  The CMP project is a transmission corridor, not a pipeline.  I’m not familiar with the quote you refer to with “environmental”, but I will repeat here what I have said elsewhere.  We need to transition to clean energy and embrace renewables.  If I were in charge, I would approve the CMP corridor as long as they made the lines 40 feet taller so that they were above the trees, so that either the trees would not need to be cut, or the area beneath could be reforested.  Because I don’t think Mainers object to the transmission of renewable energy.  I think they object to the scar across the earth.

Q: When did you formally move to living year-round and voting in Rockland? On December 3, 2019, when you donated to “Dale Crafts for Congress” with the FEC, you still listed your legal residency as Boston. 

I bought my house in November, 2014 and got a Maine license and began to vote and reside here in 2016.  I continued to travel back and forth to Boston until this year, and I rent my house to vacationers in the summers, but I’d estimate I began living in Maine more than 50% of the time I am not traveling in 2019 if not earlier.

As you may know, people who donate to candidates don’t’ list their addresses with the FEC. The campaigns report that information.  I gave the Crafts Campaign a check, so if they reported Boston, it’s probably because I gave them a check with my work address on it. Thank you for bringing it to my attention. I informed the Crafts campaign of the error and I’m sure they will correct it. 

Q: I am surprised at some things and politicians you’ve supported which don’t seem remotely progressive. For example, in December 2019, you gave the FEC maximum contribution of $5,600 to Dale Crafts, who is running to challenge Democratic congressman Jared Golden this November. Why is it so important to you to get rid of Golden, and what appeals to you about Crafts? I’m having a hard time understanding why you are financially supporting someone who The Portland Press Herald says of, “if elected this year [Crafts] would be among the most right wing members of Congress. He opposes abortion in all cases, with no exception for rape or incest, would repeal the Affordable Care Act and favors privatizing Social Security. “ How does supporting Dale Crafts fit into your vision of “reforming” and “realigning the party”?

This answer is probably simpler than you would like, but I gave Dale a campaign contribution because he asked.  I have given contributions in the part, mostly to democrats.  For example, to Congressman Steve Lynch.  In almost every case, I gave to a candidate because someone asked, except notably for (1) Bernie Sanders, (2) Ron Paul, and (3) Ross Perot.  I’m pretty good about contributing.  A libertarian candidate in NH called me a couple years ago, we had a nice conversation, and I sent him $500, and he lost. 

In the case of Dale, there is relationship there you may not be aware of.  I hired two campaign consultants named Garrett Mason and Keith Herrick who were working at the time for Eaton River Strategies.  Garrett and Keith are now on their own (GK Strategies)

Dale was their first big client, and he’s also Garrett’s uncle.  And Garrett’s my friend.  So, where they were looking to go off on their own, and where Garrett had a personal stake, I gave Dale the maximum, something I previously had only done for Steve Lynch.

I don’t know what the Press Herald said because I am not a reader.  I didn’t ask Dale his stances or discuss positions with him before or after I gave to him.  I’m not surprised to learn that about him in the sense that I know he’s very religious, but no I don’t agree with his stance.  I am pro-choice.

I have also given to a number of state candidates this year. Giving someone $100 doesn’t win their race for them, or even move the needle, but the candidate appreciates the support.  I gave $100 seed money checks to all the republican clean elections candidates.  And I didn’t ask a single one what their positions were.  I just wanted to give them a boost in a difficult fundraising environment with COVID-19.  No Democrats have asked me to give this year, but I would!  So if you know any who want my support, have them reach out.  If they are a good person, I will support them.  I don’t have an ideological litmus test.

Q: Answering a question on facebook about how you would work to stop Rockland businesses from going out of business, one of your recent ideas was: “More flexible wage structures, for seasonal wages, youth employment, and so forth.” To be clear, are you advocating for lowering the hourly wage for people in those categories?

It would probably be helpful for myself and readers to give a citation.  I don’t have that quote on hand.  But generally, no, I’m not arguing for lower wages for people in those categories.  I advocate merit wages.  I don’t think one-wage for all works.  For example, setting a living wage of $20 an hour and then giving that to a 14 year old working after school just 10 hours a week may be misguided, because it doesn’t reflect that the adult worker who is supporting a family, (a) needs to actually support a family, and (b) is probably much more productive at work, and (c) has earned it.  This is I think the corner of the minimum wage argument that is glossed over frequently.

In any event, the minimum wage isn’t $12, or $15.  It’s zero, because that’s what you make if you don’t have a job.  I ran a small business when I was 19-22 years old.  I worked every summer when my college friends were off backpacking. I left school immediately after exams, and I returned to school a week late, after labor day because I has to finish the summer.  I hired 16-20 high school kids every year.  For most, it was their first job and I took that responsibility very seriously.  At the time, I recall the minimum wage was $5.00 and I paid them $5.50-$6.50, depending on merit.  I think the living wage was $10, somewhere around there.  I worked 10am to 11pm every day, seven days a week during the summer.  We were open year-round the first two years.   Despite all that, I was able to pay myself just $20-$24,000, with no return on capital investment.  It was just a marginal business.  No if the minimum wage had been $10 per hour, I wouldn’t have been able to pay myself anything.  I would have had to reduce staff to 8-10 people working there and cut the hours we were open.

Some people here a story like that, and will say, “well if you can’t afford to pay a living wage, you shouldn’t be in business”.  But that’s not fair to those kids who worked there.  They wanted that job, and it was important experience for them and a way they learned how to be an effective worker, to be professional; to solve problems, and so forth. We need that entry level work in society. We need kids to have summer jobs, and we need light-duty work for people who are ready to step back.  When you set a high minimum wage, you make that work illegal.  Those marginal jobs disappear.

If you want to talk about something more exciting, let’s talk about a negative income tax.  Because that is something that moves the needle, and also results in (a) more total jobs, (b) more total wages, and (c) drastically higher effective wages.

Q: Do you know anything about the recent polling call which asked locals only one question: Would they vote for Valli Geiger or Mike Mullins for State Representative? 

It was probably a push poll.  Our campaign has done two of them.

Q: On your facebook page and on lawn signs, you are “thanking Susan Collins.” What are you thanking her for in particular? Did you agree with her yes vote on the 2017 Republican Tax Bill?

I think you are referring to Instagram.  For the sign on Cedar street that I am holding on my IG, it’s thank you for serving Maine for decades.  Late last year, before I decided to run myself I decided to wanted to find a way to help Susan Collins.  I like Susan. I always have.  And she is very important for Maine as she is slotted to be Senate Appropriations Chairwoman, as I understand it should she win reelection.  That alone could be enough of a reason for most Mainers to get behind her. 

Regarding the 2017 tax plan and her vote on that, well I think tax reform was needed, although that’s not how I would have done it.  I agree with the passive active rule changes.  The increased standard deduction was a smart move because it cut loopholes and made filing much simpler and did not have the adverse effects that nonprofits feared.  Non-profits did very well the next couple of years due to the wealth effect of rising markets.  I also favor the cap on the SALT deduction.  It was ludicrous that lower property value states were subsidizing expensive states like Connecticut and California with higher property values.  So, while it’s not the law I would have written, I’ll take it.

Q: Have you spoken out publicly or protested any of President Trump’s policies or statements? 

Have I spoken out publicly?  Yes I have, on facebook.  I am quick to criticize policy I don’t agree with.  No, I haven’t protested the president.  Some people identify by their activism with federal politics and the presidency.  That’s not me.  I remember being in Cambridge, MA during the women’s march with the pink hats.  My girlfriend at the time came with me to help at a startup event.  We were at a TiE entrepreneur class, where we were mentoring high school entrepreneurs.  Half of the class was female.  They were working on pitches for their startups.  She said she felt guilty because she felt everyone else was at the march it was something she was ‘supposed’ to do.  I told her, “I’m not sure you have anything to apologize for.  You’re here helping to mentor and empower these young women.”  And that was how I felt.  It’s not everyone’s job to protest.  You can feel empowered to help in your own way.

Q: Did you vote for Trump in 2016? Will you vote for him this year?

Who I voted for is between me and the voting booth!  But I did not support Hillary Clinton in 2016.  As I said, I supported Bernie.  I remember the Clinton years, and there was petty scandal after scandal -cattle futures, the white house travel office, whitewater. I’m really offended by corruption, no matter how petty.  I’d had enough of the Clintons. 

This year, like many other, we somehow end up with candidates on both sides that aren’t our first choices.  I requested to vote absentee.  I haven’t gotten my ballot.  But I have publicly stated my reservations about Mr. Biden, more than once.  Joe Biden stood on the floor of the Senate and argued against the integration of public school.  He said he didn’t want to send his kinds into a ‘racial jungle.’  I think that’s offensive.  Just 10 years ago, he eulogized an actual former clan leader, Robert Byrd, calling him a friend and mentor.  I will not vote for anyone who stood by and was mentored by segregationists and actually worked to oppose school integration.  We have come too far with the civil rights movement and it’s time to turn the page and the whole lot of them.  As a civil rights advocate, I refuse to vote for Mr. Biden based on the past opposition to the integration of public schools, and I think I have the right to do so.

Q: I know that sometimes there are bureaucratic discrepancies, but can you explain why in your filing to the Maine Ethics Commission on 9/17/20, you list yourself as “Director” of Mullins Management Company, while on the Mullins Management Company business filing with the Secretary of State of Massachusetts as of 3/13/20 someone else is listed as Director? Similarly, in your May 20, 2020 filing with the FEC for your donation to the Super-PAC Courage Maine, you list yourself as “President” of the Mullins Management Company, though the business filing in Massachusetts likewise does not list you as President that year. 

I am paid $25,000 per year by Mullins Management Company to serve as a director of our family affordable housing business.   I also receive health insurance. I don’t know what the Secretary of State’s website says, but I think I am supposed to report any organization that employs me, in principle.

I was appointed President of Mullins Management around 2007 and I think I held that for 12 years.  I worked to develop and manage affordable housing.  I stepped down officially I believe in February of this year.  But that change was in the works for a while.  I didn’t take a salary at all for a few years – 2017-2019, as I started to step back.  And at some point last year we switched to this board of directors structure.

Q: Your campaign is using a stunning amount of money for a small-town Maine representative race. As of your most recent filing with the Maine Ethics Commission on 9/22/20, you reported you had $53,325.70 raised for the campaign. If I am reading the documents right, it seems that most of that money comes from your own pockets: $46,215.70. Meanwhile, the Democratic Candidate for this position is running a “clean elections campaign” with an allotted $5,854.00. What would you say to someone who says that Mike Mullins is trying to buy his way into political office?

As far as I know, this is not the most expensive race in the house.  It’s my understanding that under clean elections, state candidates are able to raise substantially more than $5,854 if they continue to work at fundraising.  I believe I have raised more than that from third parties, but the overall number looks correct. 

For one thing, this isn’t how you buy your way into office.  You buy your way into office by buying political support, handing out envelopes, or other types of election-rigging.

What I am doing is spending to get my name out there, for all the reasons you mentioned.  My opponent has a 22-year history in local politics, and has campaigned for state rep and the city council on several occasions.  She has broad name recognition.  She organizes a networking group for hundreds of women, I am told, and says she is a member of a broader democratic party effort to put forth women candidates.  Whereas I am a first timer and as you point out I am new to town.  I have said right from the beginning, this is my opponent’s race to lose.  She has every advantage over me.  In contrast, all I have are my ideas, and my experience (track record).  So I have to work to get the word out.  If I couldn’t raise money and run ads and send mailers, I’d never have a chance. 

Q: You recently announced plans to open a Museum of Industry in Rockland. Many Rocklanders would say that the last thing Rockland needs is another non-profit that takes away from the tax base. And, as someone said to me, why is a person who just moved to a community building a history museum? I know you are involved in many things--the wonderful Midcoast Pop-Up PPE Factory among them--but why is the Museum of Industry your next passion, versus the many other things you could be doing locally?

First a correction, as stated in the Courier, the building is for profit.  And in fact, it has to be, to be eligible for the state and federal historic tax credit programs we will be using to renovate the building.  The interim use, a makerspace called Workplace Rockland, is also for profit.  It’s an L3C, which is a limited profit, limited liability corporation.

On the second part, you’re not the first person who has made a comment like that.  Steve Carroll (of WRFR) has criticized the Museum of Industry.  I’m surprised by the NIMBY attitude some have regarding the museum and makerspace.  I think we should have a Yes In My Back Yard spirit here in Rockland, where we bring cool new things to the City.

Why the Museum and makerspace?  It’s more that the opportunity presented itself, and I respond to the opportunities that I come across.  The Antiques Marketplace building was on the market for a couple years kept falling in price until it was listed for $190,000.  I happen to have experience with historic preservation and with brownfields (there is contamination on site).  And through my experience with the quarry, and getting to know Dave Hoch, I had this idea to do a lime museum, and then that morphed into a Maine Museum of Industry.  And the building seemed like a perfect location.

I have several other project that you probably don’t hear or know about.  I am planning to build housing on N. Main Street, and have a proposed joint venture to build ‘apprentice’ housing, congregate apartments for people in the maker community e.g. students at the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship.  I am submitting a proposal shortly for the Apollo Tannery in Camden.  I have several irons in the fire.  We should talk more, I’ll tell you about the other things I have going on.

Q: At a Rockland City Council meeting on January 29, 2018, when discussing your desire to keep short-term rental regulations to a minimum in Rockland, you said, "And I think this is part of the way of life here, that in the summer, we move aside and we allow vacationers to come and spend their time here....” The fact is that unregulated short-term rentals cut down on year-round rental options. As a legislator, where your constituency will be locals, not “vacationers,” what will you do to improve access to safe, affordable, year-round housing in Rockland and Owls Head?

I rent my own home every year to the summer people.  That’s a tradition here on the Maine coast going back to the 1800’s and the rusticators, for example.  Prior to the hotel industry, when people came to visit the coast they rented a home.  So that’s what I am referring to.  We have always welcomed the summer tourists and it’s one way we pay for our homes and support ourselves.

We don’t have a housing shortage here in Rockland, per se. According to the City’s Short Term Rental Task Force, apparently it was determined there are over hundreds of empty homes in Rockland.  Perhaps as many as 500?  What we ave is a shortage of affordable housing. 

Some of the units may overlap, but many of the summer rentals, higher end properties, are not ‘affordable’ homes.  They are high end hoes.  Whereas I think the premise of the cap was that, well if we block people from using Airbnb, people will get to rent these houses.  I haven’t seen data that supports that conclusively.  The problem is that property owners can just keep them empty.  They don’t have to rent their houses to anybody.  And apparently in Rockland, there are hundreds that are doing just that.

What Rockland needs is two things: (1) it needs investment to preserve historic homes in disrepair and (2) it needs a large health body of naturally occurring affordable housing.  These are older homes that may need a little work but are functional and safe.  They are the heart of affordable housing.  I have a video in which I go into this at length.   But I have 25 years of experience in affordable housing, a masters degree from the school of urban studies at MIT.  I am writing a book on the subject called ‘Hacking Affordability’.

We need an end-to-end housing policy.  Including, but not limited to, a housing first strategy for supportive housing, more tax exempt bond capacity for Maine Housing to expand first time homebuyer programs, rental lending, and grant programs, and a pro-development smart growth program to produce new home for the upper middle class to take pressure off of the supply of NOAH.  You and I could do a whole Notes from Lime City just on housing policy.

Q: And finally, is there anything else you would like to add or discuss about what being a "progressive Republican" means to you, and how your thoughts have evolved over time?

Sure thing.  Like everyone, my thinking evolves.  It was really upon reading about the presidencies of McKinley and Roosevelt that for me shed more light on the history of the progressive movement and the political battles fought in those days.  But it was more in reading the history that I realized those terms applied to me.  I have always been a reformer.  On past boards and in organizations, I like to solve problems and come up with reforms that will make things work better.  I often come in with a different angle.  The word ‘Progressive’ means reform.  So a Progressive Democrat means a reform democrat.  And vice-versa.  And that’s what I am, a progressive republican who believes that government plays a role in preserving individual freedom, restraining monopoly and corporate abuses (including labor), and that incentives play a role in helping people lead full, satisfying lives and that it is the economy that pays for social programs, and so it must be carefully curated.

On of the hardest things I come up against is that some people on the left believe either that anyone who is a republican is a bad person, or that they want a bad outcome.  And that’s not the case.  Sometimes they are a good person, who wants good things but just has a different approach, and a different way of solving the same problem.  And if you want that person to someday help you accomplish something positive, you can figure out where you see eye to eye and work together.