Penobscot Bay Pilot has posed questions to each candidate running for Maine State Legislature, providing the opportunity for the public to better understand their position on issues important to the state. Candidates responding with their individual written answers will have their responses stored in the Pilot’s 2022 Election Resource Guide.
Robyn Stanicki, a member of the Democratic Party, is seeking election to represent Maine House District 38, which includes Brooks, Frankfort (partially), Jackson, Knox, Monroe, Swanville, Thorndike, Unity and Waldo. She is running against Benjamin Hymes (questionnaire not completed) and Betsy Garrold (read her questionnaire here).
Please provide a concise biography of yourself, and state why you are running for political office.
I was born to French Canadian and Irish parents in Waltham, Massachusetts. I was placed in foster care at three years old. I mention this often because it is an incredibly important part of my life and creates inspiration for much that I do. Though I was adopted when I was nearly a teen, I’ve felt those ripples throughout my adult life. I ran away from home, dropped out of high school, and spent some time thinking I knew enough about being a kid to try out adulthood.
After growing up fast, I moved to Bangor to the Job Corps program, attending college to study law enforcement. I met my former spouse, and we went into the U.S. Army, myself in the civil service. In Alaska and Fort Polk, Louisiana, I gained skills as a Behavioral Health Technician and worked with soldiers with PTSD. I continued to work with veterans and retirees when I returned home, attending UMaine for graduate study in social work, policy, and human studies.
After spending four years researching solutions to the Opioid crisis in Maine I learned that local town governments play an integral role in solving many of the problems we experience. I now work for a Council of Governments (COG), connecting our local communities with resources to solve these problems in bite-sized servings. I publish papers, work on legislation, and testify in public hearings to make sure that local governments’ interests are heard in the legislature. To give back, I am the President of the Mid-Coast Recovery Coalition and serve on the Board of the Waterville Community Land Trust.
I have three wonderful children, one of whom is still attending local schools. One daughter is a realtor in Bangor and my son lives in Ellsworth. My wife Sam and I volunteer at our new local library, school, and in our community. I love to be out on the water, in the garden, and travel to historic places. My sense of home is at the center of everything I do, including my campaign for State Representative. We all have an ideal of family, and I believe in one sense or another, we are all trying to get back home.
Why I’m Running: Working in our towns and cities every day, I see how the Pandemic has exacerbated problems which have eroded our community identity and dissolved a once-thriving economy. However, I also see opportunities to inspire and strengthen our people.
I’m running for this office because I want to focus policy on our small, rural towns and to also continue my role as an advocate: to improve foster care, reduce homelessness, and give families opportunities to make a better living. You would be surprised how much policy work distills those basic objectives. Throughout my campaign, I aim to be sincere, and connect with people to start reinstating the trust and confidence we need in state government and to engage more people in policymaking.
What are the three most pressing issues facing Maine, as a state, today, and how would you like to see them resolved?
Climate change is an issue which affects Maine more keenly, in part because we are vulnerable to its effects on thousands of miles of coastline, outlying islands, and numerous working harbors. There’s no resolving the climate crisis by myself to be sure, but I think so many people feel this way that we are tragically inert. Our complacent nature spells disaster for each year we fail to implement uncomfortably drastic measures.
Mental health is undoubtedly the one issue that, from a systems perspective, affects the outcome of every single one of the solutions we offer in the Legislature. Mental health needs to be integrated into general, physical health and given as much importance. Investing in health is compassionate policymaking, but it is also practical. When we are sick, depressed, isolated, or disabled, we sometimes drop the ball. Whether it’s raising our kids, or solving the climate crisis, we can’t exist in poor health and contribute to an efficient society — the pandemic taught us that. There is no better return than the health care investment.
Aging is always an issue that is important to the people that I talk to everyday. We try to pass laws that serve our elderly over 65 but place less importance on policy that sets them up to be more independent at 35, 45, 55. I think we should anticipate the challenges of these effects by making sure we are healthy, fed, housed, and contributing to our society. Our life course cannot be cheated, growing old is part of it.
Maine is grappling with a housing shortage, and legislation has been crafted — and passed last year — at the Maine Legislature to try and ease the situation by allowing greater density in all municipalities. Those municipalities now are analyzing this new state rule to understand how it applies to local zoning ordinances. Do you think this was an appropriate law to pass?
The need for community investment continues to be an issue that impacts Maine’s economic future — the ability to solve problems and meet our growing needs. Resources and tools are needed to help communities address revitalization. Among the issues challenging communities is providing housing choices. Right now, the lack of housing choices puts at risk economic development, workforce development, housing equity, climate action and all aspects of Maine’s unique quality of life.
I believe that L.D. 2003 is good for Maine overall, although for very rural communities, this has little application without a thriving city center. Amid our code enforcement officer shortage, this is also a burden, not a benefit.
Some advantages exist, however, if a family would like to supplement their income with a basement apartment or studio above the garage. An elderly resident could maintain independence more easily with someone living close by. Opportunities to build more housing beyond the typical single-family home on one acre of land spell a variety of options to live together. If municipalities need help navigating this bill, it is my area of expertise, and I am available to help with that as part of my job.
Do you have other ideas, and proposals, to help ease the housing problem?
For the past three years, I have built a creative pipeline for new housing. I was inspired by a property in my town of Unity, which has sat, sad and empty for as long as I remember. I was told that at one time, residents went there to see the doctor. Several years ago, the City of Belfast moved to demolish a property that had been vacant and abandoned for so many years. Without maintenance and care, the Bradbury Manor, an historic property, had become dangerous. Residents bemoaned this decision by the Council, a shame to take down iconic, historic buildings because no one steps in to find a new use for them. But crafting solutions can take years. There are so many abandoned or vacant homes in the United States. I contacted my friend Rep. Melanie Sachs and asked her to sponsor a bill that myself and a dedicated team created to establish a Land Bank in Maine. Towns and cities can hold some of these problem properties in their local land bank, and complete rehabilitation projects that once took decades to complete. Now, Maine is eligible for millions in federal funding specifically held for States with legal land banking, and more importantly, ‘redeveloping these properties into productive reuse’ [i.e., housing]. This program complements Land Trusts which help families access homeownership, an effective mechanism to reducing poverty, give kids stable homes, increase mental health, and build communities from the ground up.
What legislative committees would you like to serve on and why?
IDEA and the Health Coverage, Insurance, and Financial Services committee. These are two that have a substantial influence on the efficiency of our investments in public health and the future. Balancing these priorities with smart and sound fiscal administration is the key to being able to meet our goals within my lifetime.
Maine’s economy relies on small and micro-businesses. How will you help the entrepreneur succeed in this state?
The downfall of many small businesses, heath insurance is a problem. That health care is at all tied to employment is beyond me completely. Small businesses like local farms are struggling with crippling health care costs. This is not insurance for the business, but themselves as business owners. My friends are paying over $31,000 for health insurance per year, for two people! This is not sustainable.
As I mentioned, our economy is threatened by poor health. Having consistent access to affordable heath care coverage should be a no-brainer. People are not collateral damage to good business. I plan to design healthcare access that reduces cost, waste, and administration, using every tool we have at our disposal.
What are the greatest economic, cultural and social strengths in your district, and how will you support them?
As I mentioned, my district has taken a direct blow to our economy, identity, and industry. But we have wonderful people, who care about each other, fed each other, and who are now stepping up to pick up the pieces. We are a land of farmers and artists.
We make yummy things to eat like goat cheese and donuts, till acres of fields that produce mounds of sweet corn, tomatoes, squash and pumpkins. The Common Ground Fair attracts so many people to learn, taste, and experience the creative representation of our agricultural heritage.
What are the greatest problems in your district, and how do you intend to address them?
Our businesses are drying up. During fair season, businesses flock to our district, but after three days, it’s gone. Since I have lived here, starting, and maintaining new businesses has been a constant struggle; our incentivizing loan fund for entrepreneurs was returned to the General Fund this spring.
Growing up, I loved to go to Bryant’s stove shop in Thorndike, where Mr. Bryant and Bea would sit me on the player piano and sing Christmas songs. My dad lived next to the funeral parlor that isn’t there anymore, and countless other empty shops and storefronts that line the streets of these small towns. Attracting businesses means improving our infrastructure like broadband access, nice roads and sidewalks, recreation such as trails, and safe housing. Do I have to say health care again?
Do you support construction of the 145-mile Central Maine Power transmission line from Quebec to Massachusetts?
I’m still weighing the voices of my future constituents on this issue.
The Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services recently received funding from lawmakers to fund five public defenders to travel the state representing indigent defendants. Its executive director says that is “not a solution, it’s a patch" and that the agency needs an estimated $51 million to open public defender offices in all 16 counties. Should the legislature be looking to fund more public defenders?
The jails are burgeoning with people that need to be adjudicated. Inmates are held pre-trial for hundreds of days, so much more than their sentence would have been. Hire the public defenders, but we don’t need an office. Spend the money on judges, DAs, and court personnel to have cases moving quickly.
At least four county jails in Maine have combined to record nearly 1,000 phone calls between jailed defendants and their attorneys. What action would you like to see the legislature and governor take to ensure this never again happens?
Honestly, how did jails ever feel like that is ok? That’s the question we need to answer.
Maine is one of 16 states that does not offer parole after abolishing it in 1976. Should the state reinstate the possibility of parole?
Yes and no. The problem with piecemeal solutions to the problems within the criminal Justice system is that it is, after all, a system and we stand to disrupt every part of it with just a few changes. We should look at the benefits beyond the obvious (i.e. cost) to be sure we are doing the right thing for the right reason, respecting the rights of offenders and their victims.
If we are concerned that certain crimes carry unreasonable sentences or that sentences are unfair overall, we could look at sentencing guidelines as an alternative. From a law enforcement perspective, this is not an easy topic to discuss, there are just so many moving parts.
There is a statewide shortage of nurses willing to work at nursing homes and assisted living facilities. What more should the state be doing to attract workers?
Healthcare is our largest employer, economic driver, and service industry in the state. Nurses, CNAs, medical assistants, mental health technicians, behavioral health nurses and assistants are a critical component of our workforce. One of my first jobs was working as a Nursing Assistant (and this is back-breaking work!). These positions are undervalued and under-supported.
Now, I work directly with top-level idea-generators. With an examination of pay, working conditions, benefits, and access to education can become an incentive to attract workers in low paying jobs to move up the ladder. I call this common-sense idea “promote from within.”
Although the general analysis of workforce development initiatives suggest that we should recruit employees from outside of the state, we should also move to create a more diverse healthcare workforce. Doctors and specialists are highly diverse, but support positions like nurses are understaffed, and largely white. Some health care systems are creating diversity initiatives to create employment programs for employees with language barriers, or examining housing, childcare, and other benefits to recruit and create valuable and valued employees. Don’t you want to love your job?
What is your position on abortion?
Protecting our right to choose protects our ability to choose.
The Maine Dept. of Transportation is focusing more on active transportation (bike and pedestrian, as well as public transportation). How would you like to see this implemented in your district?
This is an exciting climate resilience challenge, There are several funding opportunities to create ‘Safe Ways to School’, downtown village revitalizations, crosswalks, bike trails, bike lending programs, and other ways that our rural communities can take advantage of our unique geography-we have lots of room for this kind of infrastructure. We could expand some of our trails, build new ones, encourage biking by engaging youth, etc.
What is your position on Gov. Janet Mills' energy policy?
I don’t have one clear enough to elaborate on here.
If a voter expressed concern to you about voting security in Maine, how would you respond?
Speak to your town office and get involved.
What is your position on gun control?
I will support reasonable measures to increase mental health approaches to gun violence and lean why we should or shouldn’t limit military or tactical grade weapons in our state.
What is your vision of Maine in 20 years?
In 20 years, Mainers my age will be dealing with the effects of our health decisions, and we will need someone to take care of us. I hope that they will also be well-cared for, whatever their age. I hope that our kids can stay and live nearby, and that they have good jobs, families, and hobbies that make them feel like their lives are meaningful.
I hope we will have safe houses to live in; despite our work to catch up to climate change, we will be dealing with severe weather, longer winters, and hotter summers. I hope that we find a way to work together and reduce our derision among people,
Free space! Is there anything else you want voters to know about you or your vision not addressed through this questionnaire?
I decided to become a Planner because I have always needed to see the bigger picture, and I have been drawn to policy because its connected to my other experience: research, law enforcement, and social work. While policy is not an exact science, I believe that effective legislators must be tied to evidence, implementation, and results in the same way.
Although real listening is important, we have a lot of problems here in Maine to address. I’m excited to get to work.