Cushing, Owls Head (part), South Thomaston, St. George, Thomaston

On the issues: House District 43 candidate Ann Higgins Matlack

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.

    Ann Higgins Matlack, a member of the Democratic party, is seeking election to represent Maine House District 43, which includes Cushing, Owls Head (partially), South Thomaston, St. George and Thomaston. 

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

    I moved to Maine more than 45 years ago to attend the University of Maine and I have lived here practically ever since. I have been a resident of St. George for more than 30 years.

    I have been involved in a variety of boards, committees and volunteer efforts for St. George and Knox County: I coached soccer and participated on the St. George Recreation Committee; served two terms on the former MSAD 50 School Board, 10 years on the St. George Budget Committee and 10 years on the Knox County Budget Committee. I participated on the St. George Ad Hoc Internet Service Availability Committee and served for many years on the Board of Penquis, a non-profit community action agency that provides services such as Head Start and LIHEAP to improve the lives of people in need, including two years as Board Chair.

    Over the years, I’ve worked for a small weekly newspaper, a large insurance brokerage, assisted a consultant in analyzing maritime casualties, and worked for the City of Rockland and the Town of South Thomaston. I have a master’s degree in public policy and management from the Muskie School at the University of Southern Maine and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Maine at Orono. I was a member of the third class of the Midcoast Leadership Academy.

    I am currently serving my second term in the Maine Legislator, where I serve as the House Chair of the State & Local Government Committee and I’m on the Taxation Committee.

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

    Women’s reproductive rights and continued access to health care: A woman’s right to obtain safe and appropriate health care is under attack. While the Maine Legislature and the Governor have shored up women’s rights here, we must continue to safeguard those rights by passing legislation that provides a safe haven for all women to receive the care they want here in Maine.

    Impact of federal regulation and climate warming on the fishing industry: Maine’s fishing fleets are facing huge obstacles from federal regulators and warming waters. I would like to see federal regulators come to their senses and stop imposing unreasonable and unproven restrictions on lobstermen; but that probably won’t happen. Instead, the Legislature should support fishermen by opposing federal regulations whenever possible, providing funding for the legal defense of fishing organizations pushing back against federal regulations, and refuting unscientific and unreliable disinformation whenever possible. And we should support Maine Climate Council in achieving its goals for Maine’s environment.

    PFAS chemicals in our water and in our soil: I am a farm groupie. I enjoy participating in a local CSA, visiting farms on Open Farm Sunday; going to farmers’ markets; buying from farm stands, eating Maine cheese on freshly baked bread, and getting fresh, local eggs. To have found out that our farmland and water have been polluted by “forever chemicals” is horrifying. Maine has made great strides in supporting local agriculture and fishing. We need to stop the pollution, find those companies whose chemicals have polluted our state, and make them clean up this mess.

    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?

    Yes. LD 2003 allows for additional dwelling units to be built on residential property sites, as long as there is adequate water and sewer; the additions don’t violate setbacks, height restrictions, shoreland zoning restrictions or deed covenants. This will allow for more housing in areas where it is needed and more modest residences, such as in-law apartments, tiny homes, basement apartments, etc., can be built on existing homesites. It also provides resources to assist municipalities in updating local zoning ordinances and dealing with new ways of creating housing.

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

    The State of Maine has set aside millions of dollars to fund housing across the state. We need to encourage local projects that provide housing for a variety of residents, including seniors, young people just starting out, families with children, and leverage state and federal funding to create housing in our neighborhoods.

    Much of the recent housing development has occurred in more urban and populated areas. With the amount of funding currently available, we should be supporting local efforts to expand housing options and keep our towns vibrant.

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

    I currently serve as House Chair of the State & Local Government Committee and I’ve been a member of the Taxation Committee for two terms. I would like to continue to work on both committees.

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

    I continue to support expanding broadband throughout the State of Maine, which will provide a strong linchpin for small businesses that want to stay local and need access to highspeed internet services to stay competitive.

    I support funding our state universities, community colleges and other education facilities that provide economic development opportunities, skills development and leadership training to give future entrepreneurs the backgrounds they will need to succeed. I support local programs and non-profits that have created business incubators to provide needed mentoring and professional feedback to those first starting up their business and as they scale up.

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

    The greatest strength in my district comes from the people who live here. The small business people, the lobstermen, the clammers, the storekeepers, the restaurateurs, the farmers, the painters, the sculptors, the weavers, aquaculture harvesters, first responders, those who work in the municipal offices.

    The people who live in my district work hard, help their neighbors, remember the past, work for the future and take care of our children. I will always support the people who live in my district and respond to their needs.

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

    The greatest issue currently is the assault on the lobster industry. Again and again, lobstermen have adapted their ways of hauling to meet federal requirements, from phasing out the use of floating rope to clearing 30,000 miles of line from Maine waters.

    Since 2004, no Maine fisherman has been responsible for a right whale entanglement, and yet they are the ones being penalized for this problem. I support the efforts of the lobstering organizations as they push back against these unfair and ill-thought-out federal regulations.

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

    No. Clear-cutting large swaths of the Maine woods does not justify the indirect benefits of hydro power from Canada.

    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?

    Yes. Maine is the only state without a public defender’s office and our current indigent defense system is woefully underfunded and understaffed. Hiring five public defenders earlier this spring was a very modest step in improving the representation of those who cannot afford to hire their own attorneys, especially in the more rural parts of Maine.

    But this is only a first step, and we should appropriately fund a public defender’s office and not just a few travelling attorneys to handle indigent legal needs.

    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 illegal and unconstitutional activity occurs because we in the State of Maine have a poorly staffed and woefully underfunded indigent legal services system. The Legislature established a Committee to Ensure Constitutionally Adequate Contact with Counsel, whose charge is to find solutions to such issues. I will be interested to read the report when it is released and will support improved funding and staffing for indigent legal services in Maine.

    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. A legislative commission is studying whether or not Maine should reinstate parole and I voted in favor of creating this commission. I look forward to reading the commission’s report when it comes out.

    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?

    Working in nursing homes and assisted living facilities is strenuous, low-paid and emotionally demanding. The people who do this work should be better compensated, be provided with health care and other benefits, should be able to work in safe environments, and should have access to affordable housing. If we value the people who live in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, we should also value those who take care of our loved ones.

    What is your position on abortion?

    I support a woman’s right to access abortion care.

    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 would like to see our roads improved to accommodate bikers and pedestrians. So many of our smaller roads have gravel shoulders, making it unsafe to ride or walk on this area, if you wanted to. Additionally, many counties have broad systems to supply rides to people needing to get to doctors’ visits and other necessary appointments.

    While we have a wonderful program in St George — People to People, which provides rides to grocery stores, to your aunt’s house for tea, to doctors’ appointments, etc. — I’d like to see Knox County develop a broad system of agencies which work together to provide these services.

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

    Governor Mills’ Maine Climate Council has laid out a very thorough and thoughtful Action Plan, along with specific, achievable goals based on comprehensive scientific and technical assessment, to deal with issues of climate change in Maine. These goals include reducing Maine’s greenhouse gas emissions, avoiding the impacts and costs of inaction, fostering economic opportunity and prosperity, and advancing equity through Maine’s climate response.

    I support this Action Plan, and the green bank to fund these initiatives and the land bank to assist communities in dealing with compromised and abandoned properties, both of which were established by the 130th Legislature.

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

    Voting in Maine is safe and accurate. Elections are administered at the municipal level, where town and city clerks have responsibility for maintaining election accuracy. We have paper ballots to confirm voting outcomes, should the need arise. And the Office of the Secretary of State is developing an auditing system to confirm the appropriate processes are followed.

    What is your position on gun control?

    Everyone should support gun safety. We should ensure that guns and ammunition are stored safely out of reach, especially around children; that current laws and regulations are enforced, and those who have shown themselves to be irresponsible with weapons should not be allowed to retain or obtain them.

    What is your vision of Maine in 20 years?

    By 2042, we should have more portable jobs, so that people can live here and work from anywhere. I would hope that we have addressed climate change head-on and have found ways to begin mitigating sea-level rise and global warming.

    I would like to see more local agriculture, so we grow as much of our food here in Maine as possible. That we continue to fish sustainably while also growing our aquaculture programs. That our forests can be used for more cutting-edge products such as bio-based plastics, building supplies and other non-petroleum-based manufactured goods. And I would like to see our population grow younger over the next 2 decades and that more of our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren chose to stay in Maine.

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

    The current school funding formula does not include income in their calculations. By including income, distribution of state funding would be more equitable. Currently, RSU 13 is penalized because incomes are excluded when needs are determined. This should be remedied so that the school funding formula more adequately reflects a district’s needs.