Criehaven, Matinicus, Mussel Ridge, North Haven, Owls Head, Rockland

On the issues: House District 42 candidate Valli Geiger

Tue, 11/01/2022 - 7:45pm

    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.

    Valli Geiger, a member of the Democratic Party, is seeking election to represent Maine House District 42, which includes Criehaven, Matinicus Isle, Mussel Ridge Islands, North Haven, Owls Head (partially) and Rockland.

    Please provide a concise biography of yourself, and state why you are running for political office.

    I have a 40 year career in healthcare, health policy and healthcare reform. I have pursued lifelong education: a bachelor's in nursing, graduate work in public health and public administration, a graduate certificate in organizational development, and a master’s degree in green design. Most of my professional career has taken place outside my community.

    About 10 years ago, I realized I wanted to shift focus and serve my community. I started by taking a volunteer position on Rockland's Comprehensive Planning Commission, and Rockland's Economic Development Committee. I ran and was elected to the Rockland City Council, serving two three-year terms. I was invited to run for the legislature and my previous volunteer experience with elected office, work in healthcare policy and a passion for environmental and climate change work made it a good fit.

    This last third of my life is about public service, giving back for all the blessings I have had living in and growing up in the US. The opportunities I had seem to be disappearing and have never existed for many. Our concern for the common good over individual self seems to have declined. I want to be part of returning civility to our body politic, to creating and passing policy based on helping people thrive, to create and pass policy that repairs the damage we have done to our shared planet and the other species we share it with. I am a reformer at heart, I can always imagine a better world and want to work to make it so.


    What are the three most pressing issues facing Maine, as a state, today, and how would you like to see them resolved?

    1. Housing: We have a crisis in housing availability. Most working Mainers have been locked out of the real estate market by rapidly increasing home prices. Here in Knox County, the median price of a house is $357,000. Our rental vacancy rate is close to 0% and two-thirds of Mainers cannot afford the rent on a two bedroom house or apartment, if they could find one.

    2. Lack of a liveable wage: Maine has the lowest median income of any New England state. We have one of the highest high school graduation rates but one of the lowest college attendance and completion rate. We need to be focused on helping kids go on to technical/vocational school, community college or 4 year colleges. Maine is desperate for a skilled workforce and Maine people need higher wages. I believe strongly that if you work full time, you should be able to afford the basics of life: health care, housing, food, transportation, clothing and some simple pleasures. Instead, Walmart, as part of their orientation, show new employees how to apply for heating and food assistance. That is just wrong.

    3. Climate Change and Energy: Mainers are struggling to heat our houses and drive our cars given the cost of fossil fuels. We must help Maine people increase the energy efficiency of their houses, so they use less fuel for heating and cooling. We must move toward transitioning to renewables both for resiliency and affordability. We are seeing the effects of climate change and increased heat around the globe, Maine has been lucky that our climate change has not been extreme yet, but our bay is rapidly warming to the detriment of our fishing and lobster industry. Climate change and loss of species is the existential crisis of our time.


    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?

    I fully supported LD 2003, the Speaker's bill on Housing. The section on allowing ADU's as a matter of right for single family home owners, was my contribution to the bill. We are in a situation where we have slowly created zoning rules that prevent housing of any type from being built in our municipalities. We now have an acute work force crisis at all levels because there is nowhere to live.

    The bill gives additional funding to Maine State Housing to increase the building of public housing, it removes many of the barriers that prevent small development projects. It allows property owners more freedom to add an additional residential unit for their children, aging parents, or simply as a way to pay their property taxes so they can stay in their home and community.


    Do you have other ideas, and proposals, to help ease the housing problem?

    I am on the Board of the Midcoast Habitat for Humanity. It is an organization that is working hard to create affordable housing in Maine's Midcoast. Their model has been highly successful and needs to be scaled up. I am also belong to the House Democratic Housing Caucus, we are working on legislation that would offer low cost or forgivable loans to Maine homeowners to build Accessory Dwelling Units for year round rentals. The legislature, last session passed a Land Bank bill, which will help municipalities who are interested, gain ownership of abandoned buildings and convert them to residential spaces.


    What legislative committees would you like to serve on and why?

    I would like to serve on two committees: Labor and Housing because my passion and expertise is in housing. Lack of housing is a crisis for much of Maine and I have been working on housing policy for the last eight years, two years in the legislature and six years as a member of Rockland City Council. Secondly, I would like to be on the Transportation committee because my district now includes North Haven. Ferry service is the life blood of the islands and there is currently no island representation on the transportation committee, which oversees ferry service as part of the Maine Department of Transportation.


    Maine’s economy relies on small and micro-businesses. How will you help the entrepreneur succeed in this state?

    The state of Maine has many programs to support business incubation efforts, but without a workforce and without housing, new businesses will struggle to thrive here. I support the state's efforts to help new business but will continue to focus my efforts on housing, a liveable wage, education and daycare. People come and start businesses where they want to live. We have great natural beauty, great cultural attractions, we need to have housing, a workforce, good schools and day care availability to attract young entrepreneurs.


    What are the greatest economic, cultural and social strengths in your district, and how will you support them?

    I live in a fantastic district with great natural beauty, nature, a great walkable little city with art, great dining and shopping. It is a friendly community with people more than willing to volunteer and support their neighbors. Our economy is year round, North Haven has a strong community of year round residents and we all see our populations double in the summer. This brings needed economic prosperity and a freshness to our communities when in balance.

    So many of our new residents discovered the Midcoast on a visit here and were so drawn to it that they moved here. We are lucky to live in a place that is beautiful and has a real sense of community. As more seasonal residents move in, we face a challenge to our year round vibrant community. I continue to focus on making sure we can welcome new residents. Maine is aging, we need young people to stay here, settle here, and move here. They must see Midcoast Maine as a place with job opportunities, a liveable wage and available and affordable housing.


    What are the greatest problems in your district, and how do you intend to address them?

    The largest problems in my district are the lack of available and affordable housing, related to that, an acute shortage of labor and high property taxes due to education costs. The State of Maine now funds 55% of the cost of education, but that is in total. Each community, based on land values, receives a different amount from close to 100% to nothing. The education formula is particularly disadvantageous to Rockland because we have high land values due to being on the coast, but our poverty level and median income level are lower than the state average. The formula does not take into account the poverty level or median income.

    I submitted a bill to change the education formula last session which did not pass. I intend to submit two education bills this session, one to completely overhaul the education formula and one just to add median income to the formula to make it fairer to our community. I am a member of the Democratic Housing Caucus and we continue to meet and educate ourselves on what other states and regions are doing that works and to develop legislation to bring successful solutions/models to Maine. Our labor shortage will not improve unless we increase available housing.


    Do you support construction of the 145-mile Central Maine Power transmission line from Quebec to Massachusetts?

    I do not. It carries no benefits for Maine, the contract offered this state was terrible compared with what was offered to New Hampshire and Vermont. Frankly, I cannot get past the fact that it is CMP who is behind the project. They have squandered their reputation with their focus on profit without service. Utilities are granted a monopoly and a set rate of profit of at least 10%. In return, they are expected to serve the people in their service area fairly and well.

    Most CMP customers have lost trust in CMP, CMP is rated as one of the worst in the country for customer service, days without power, and have failed to reinvest in the grid. They actively undermine Maine's effort toward sustainability and renewable energy, they have made a huge profit this year, far larger than the previous year, yet are requesting another large rate hike. I don't think Maine should continue to do business with them. They are granted their monopoly by the state, it is not theirs by right.


    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?

    We are the only state without public defenders, relying on lawyers around the state to take on indigent defendants either for free or for very poor rates of pay. The number of lawyers willing to do this has fallen precipitously and a higher and higher percentage of people facing trial are doing so without representation. The Sixth Amendment of the constitution gives defendants the right to counsel in federal prosecutions. How can Maine not do the same?


    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?

    This is already illegal. Those who engaged in this practice need to face the legal consequences for doing so.


    Maine is one of 16 states that does not offer parole after abolishing it in 1976. Should the state reinstate the possibility of parole?

    I support parole for non-violent crimes and would need to know more about parole for violent crimes. I support programs to decrease recidivism, making it less likely that someone serves their sentence but arrives back in community with no skills, no supports, and having learned a code of behavior in prison which makes them poor citizens in the community.


    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?

    Maine, in the last legislative session, passed several bills to increase the number of nursing students accepted into Maine Nursing Programs (there is a long waiting list of students), to increase the number of nursing professors to teach said students. Nursing professors are woefully underpaid, making less than a nurse working in a hospital. Their salaries are not commensurate with other professors in other fields. Until that is addressed, the nursing shortage will continue. Again, many nurses are leaving to do travel nursing because their pay has been stagnating and many nurses willing to work in Maine, cannot find housing.


    What is your position on abortion?

    A woman's autonomy over her own body is paramount. No one else gets to decide when or if she has children, how many or none at all. Forced birth is a profound attack on personal freedom. It affects a woman's health, ability to work, support her family, control the size of that family, go to school and create financial stability. Forced birth legislation places women's lives at profound risk and creates a medical system that worries first about breaking the law and second about what is best care for a woman who is pregnant.

    Already, the horror stories are mounting up in states that have banned abortion even in the case of rape, incest or when the life and the health of the mother is at stake. Many things go wrong during a pregnancy, these laws leave no room for medical providers to act to protect women's health or lives, when it does.

    Six bills submitted by Maine Republicans in the last legislative session would have added barriers to legal abortion, Democrats in the Maine legislature defeated them all. Abortion is legal in Maine but only as long as the majority of legislators believe in a women's right to choose for herself.


    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?

    I support the concept of “Complete Streets.” It requires a transportation policy and design approach that requires streets that share the street with pedestrians, public transportation, bikes safely. We need bike lanes, side walks and streets in denser areas that discourage car speeds. The more we walk, the healthier we are, the more we encourage public transport, trains, and walking, biking the less pollution, the less asphalt, the fewer accidents and deaths.

    Communities thrive when they are walkable communities. As Maine continues to age, more and more Mainers need to stop driving, but without a car, they find themselves housebound or dependent on the kindness of others to do their shopping, make trips to the doctors, or take them to cultural events. It is time to transition away from a focus on cars only as the predominant way to move about.


    What is your position on Gov. Janet Mills' energy policy?

    Climate Change is the existential challenge of our time. We must bring down our carbon use, the faster the better. I support the Governor's energy policy, and President Biden's climate change action bill that just passed. We need to transition to renewables quickly and without leaving people behind.


    If a voter expressed concern to you about voting security in Maine, how would you respond?

    Despite hundreds of investigations done across the country, very few instances of voter fraud have been found. Prior to the 2020 election, I invited the Secretary of State to address a gathering of Midcoast women to explain the checks and balances in Maine. We came away reassured. However, with attempts to install Secretaries of State that could overturn or refuse to certify elections, laws allowing legislatures to overturn the will of the voters, the threatening of election clerks, means we cannot take our voting rights for granted.


    What is your position on gun control?

    I come from a long line of hunters so I support rifles for hunting, I support handguns for personal defense, but I do not support weapons of war in private hands. I would ban rapid fire assault rifles, machine guns and bump stocks.

    These are military grade firearms that should not be available to the average citizen. Most of us are tired of feeling unsafe at parades, shopping centers, movie theaters and grocery stores. We are tired of hearing about the slaughter of school children by unstable young men able to buys an AR-15 easier than they can buy a beer. The destructive capacity of these weapons allows them to kill and maim large numbers of people within minutes, long before a police presence can arrive.

    No one wants to face a killer with an AR-15 and as we saw with Uvalde, that includes the police. It is time to remove these weapons from the streets. These kind of rapid fire assault weapons were banned from 1986 until 2004 when the ban expired and failed to be renewed in Congress. I support people's right to own a rifle for hunting and handguns for personal safety, I do not support the legal availability of weapons whose only purpose is to kill and maim large numbers of humans very quickly.


    What is your vision of Maine in 20 years?

    A beautiful vibrant place, where people and nature thrive, with a liveable wage, great educational opportunities, a place that welcomes entrepreneurs, young people and respects Maine's workforce. A place that allows us to age in place safely and with dignity. A place that has seen our opiate addiction crisis resolve, and our children free from early trauma and subsequent life struggles.


    Free space! Is there anything else you want voters to know about you or your vision not addressed through this questionnaire?

    In an episode of the TV Series "The Closer" called "Serving The King" the Chief, Brenda Lee, tells a story about an ongoing, never ending struggle between the "King" and the “Church.” It takes different forms over time, but in general, ordinary people are best served by standing on the side lines and going about their lives. But every once in a while, one side decides it is willing to blow up the world rather than not get its way and during those times, you cannot stand on the sidelines, you must pick a team.

    I believe we are at such a moment in America and in Maine. I believe the Republican Party has lost its way and is now willing to blow up democracy, the rule of law, deny personal freedoms, deny and actively thwart solutions to climate change and deny to millions of seniors a bargain made in 1935 to allow them to retire in dignity with Social Security and in 1965 with healthcare through Medicare.

    I believe if you care about this country, it is time to come off the sidelines and vote Democratic over the next few election cycles. Do it enthusiastically, reluctantly or while holding your nose, but do it until the MAGA faction of the Republican Party has collapsed and the Republican Party reemerges from the ashes.

    If you believe in Democracy, the rule of law, the right to vote, the right to privacy, if you believe that climate change is real and must be addressed, if you believe in the importance of Social Security and Medicare for seniors, vote for those values.