On the issues: House District 94 Candidate Victoria Doudera

Fri, 09/18/2020 - 10:00am

    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 2020 Election Resource Guide. Victoria Doudera, Democrat, is seeking reelection to represent Maine House District 94, which includes Camden, Islesboro and Rockport.

    1. Please provide a concise biography of yourself. 

    I came to Maine in my early 20s with my future husband Ed, very little money, and the dream of starting a business. We found a run-down Victorian on Route 1 in Camden, worked like crazy fixing it up, and opened the Blackberry Inn that June.

    Early on, I immersed myself in our community. I trained as a First Responder for Camden First Aid, joined the board of the Camden Shakespeare Company, and became active in our Chamber of Commerce, serving twice as Vice President of the Board of Directors. After we sold the inn I wrote my first book, Moving to Maine, a guide to welcome newcomers to the state.

    My three kids, now grown, were born in Rockport and went to Camden-Rockport schools. Two of them have “come back” to live in Maine; the other lives happily in Vermont. Besides my children and my new grandson, one of my proudest accomplishments is serving as President of Midcoast Habitat for Humanity for five years, an important time for the organization in which we hired our first executive director, bought our Rockport barn, opened the ReStore, and greatly ramped up our building program to help as many low income families as possible.

    In 2018 I ran for Representative because I believed I had the skills to make a real difference for Maine. I promised to communicate often with you, my constituents, and to listen to your concerns and ideas. With my first term behind me, I believe I have kept those promises and have used my real-world business experience, creativity, and a vision to help create a brighter future for Maine. I worked collaboratively with my colleagues, elevated issues from my constituents whenever possible, and was an engaged problem solver for our community during the pandemic.

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

    Doing everything we can to recover from the pandemic is critical. Families are struggling, small businesses are hurting, organizations are in trouble, and we are facing a budget shortfall. I’m thankful for the work we did last session to shore up the rainy day fund as we will need to draw on those reserves to help Mainers get through this unprecedented time. And we will get through it. The pandemic has highlighted other areas in which we need to continue working: affordable high speed broadband, for one. With telehealth and remote teaching, we need to be sure the entire state is covered. New families moving to Maine for our quality of life also require reliable internet for their businesses.

    Climate Change must continue to be a primary focus. We made some good progress with solar and wind energy bills last session, but there are still so many facets that need addressing. From sea level rise, to ocean acidification, to greenhouse gas emissions, we need to continue to keep climate change and carbon neutrality at the forefront. As a member of the Legislature’s Energy, Utilities, and Technology Committee, I had the opportunity last session to learn firsthand how our shift to clean energy in order to reduce our emissions will also benefit our Maine economy by creating new jobs and bringing new Mainers. Going forward, our path to achieving this goal and those of Maine’s Climate Council must be multifaceted, relying on robust electrification of our homes, schools and vehicles (including ferries!) development of our own energy sources and utilities, and of course continued efficiency measures whenever possible. Transportation and heating create 84% of Maine greenhouse gas emissions, so we have our work cut out for us and it won’t be inexpensive. However, there are new financing structures, such as green banks, that can help us with the cost of meeting these critical climate challenges.

    Quality, affordable healthcare is an ongoing issue in our state. I was a proponent of medicaid expansion last session and am so thankful we implemented and fully funded it, as I know our situation would have been even worse here in Maine hat that expansion not passed. Voters in my district talk to me about coverage that doesn’t really “cover” much at all, as well as ridiculous, “out of the blue” bills they receive, so we need to continue our work on those fronts. Here in the Midcoast we’ve done a great job of attracting more providers but I know that in other parts of the state it’s difficult to get services because the professionals aren’t here, especially when it comes to mental health and primary care physicians. Another issue is accessibility to health care when it’s dependent on employment. All Mainers need access to regular preventive check- ups, affordable prescription drugs, vision and hearing care, mental health counseling, reasonable deductibles and co-pays, and necessary medical treatment. Finally, our veterans have earned benefits in the VA health care system and yet many are not enrolled, and when they are, they are sometimes frustrated with the care they receive. So we need to keep helping them with that.

    3. How will you protect the local (municipal) taxpayer as you help shape a state budget?

    Fair and progressive tax relief is my priority. Support for education at the state level greatly impacts my district, as more than half of our local property taxes go to fund our schools. As a state, we've got to help taxpayers out by fully funding education at 55% and municipal revenue sharing at 5%. We accomplished some much-needed relief for our district last session, by increasing the homestead exemption, but we have to keep working to relieve the incredible pressure on the towns I serve, where property taxes are making it very hard for our workers and seniors to make ends meet. Increasing exemptions for veterans and seniors is one idea we have discussed. Local option sales taxes are another solution, but because those generally hit the lodging industry, I will have a very hard time supporting them, especially after the difficult tourism season we've just endured.

    4. Given the shortfall of housing in your district, how should the state approach the need for more workforce housing, as well as re-entry housing for the formerly incarcerated, and emergency shelter for those suffering through extended power outages?

    My focus on housing as a foundation for a healthy Maine is bolstered by my profession as a Realtor, along with my longtime advocacy for and involvement with Habitat for Humanity. It’s my strong belief that safe, affordable places to live are the key to stable families, lower rates of depression and substance abuse, and a better economy. I was pleased to cosponsor several bills that increased affordable housing but we need more solutions, such as working with communities to allow zoning changes for more density, and incentivizing builders to create more affordable units. We need to continue working with our prisons to provide housing that will help formerly incarcerated Mainers get back on their feet and re-enter the economy. Again, housing is the bedrock. Emergency shelter for those impacted by storms may be better dealt within communities rather than by the state. but we should be ready to address this in the legislature if we continue to have extended power outages.

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

    I was proud to serve on the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee, and would like to continue to build on the progress we made, or serve on the Environment and Natural Resources Committee as I have been involved in many environmental bills. But I am also a team player and will let leadership know that I’m happy to serve where I’m needed.

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

    As someone who has started two Maine businesses, run another, and in my capacity as a realtor helped many others get off the ground, I am familiar with the challenges to entrepreneurs in this state, and I’ll support all possible measures that will help working Mainers and small businesses to recover from this unprecedented year. Continuing to improve the state’s infrastructure is key -- not just bridges, roads, and ferries -- but our digital infrastructure. I worked closely with the Department of Economic and Community Development over the past few months to help businesses get grants and loans, and am looking forward to the efforts of the state’s Economic Recovery Committee, as well as the newly created legislative committee, the IDEA (Innovation, Development, Economic Advancement and Business) Committee, as we move forward to support the plan and strategies outlined in the Department of Economic Development’s roadmap for the state. It will take all of us working together to help our state recover and move forward.

    7. What is your vision for affordable health care?

    I believe that affordable health care is a basic right — the “life” part of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Whether we allow people to keep their existing plans, expand the pool of ages that can receive Medicare, or work toward a cooperative “Maine ALLCare” type of plan, I know that when I speak with constituents, affordable health care that is fair, efficient, financially sound and sustainable is one of their chief concerns.

    8. Does the State of Maine need to improve its public health system?

    Yes. As a rural state we rely heavily on public health nurses to help with every stage of life — childbirth, young children, and the elderly — and folks in these positions support our first responders, law enforcement, hospitals and schools. And yet the funding is low and not all the positions are filled. So yes, there is a definite need for improvement.

    9. What are the greatest strengths in your district, and how do you hope to support them?

    Camden, Islesboro and Rockport are coastal communities with traditional and innovative industries in the marine sector, healthcare, tourism, technology, the arts and financial services. I’d say one of our biggest strengths is our population, as we have a wide range of smart, talented folks living here; people who care deeply about our community and environment. Our three towns are civically engaged, accepting of differences, and creative. Our schools are top-notch and there is no shortage of things to do or places to get involved.

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

    Affordable housing is one of our greatest challenges, and as explained earlier, I will keep working to address this problem. Food insecurity is another, as we do have children who are hungry and rely heavily on school meals for nutrition. Rising property taxes are a third problem, one which we have begun to help offset in the legislature. Finally, Islesboro, being an island community, is dependent on the Maine State Ferry Service and I will keep advocating for affordable rates for all of us who travel back and forth.

    11. What is your position on law enforcement reform in the State of Maine?

    My district is fortunate to have law enforcement professionals who believe in community policing and who treat all citizens with respect. Unfortunately that isn’t the case everywhere, and like many Americans, I am shocked and saddened to have witnessed recent law enforcement encounters that blatantly belied our values and ideals of justice. Here in Maine, we need to make sure all departments are getting the training they need to keep situations from escalating, and provide officers when possible with professionals in the mental health and social services fields to help in all the myriad situations they are expected to handle. I do not believe in defunding the police or any of our first responders, as they do a critically important job in our communities, but I do think we need to augment their work with professionals who can potentially help prevent negative encounters.

    12. What are your thoughts about the state’s response to the pandemic?

    I commend Gov. Mills for her strong leadership during this pandemic, especially her willingness to base her policies on facts and science, and collaborate so closely with Dr. Shah and his team at Maine CDC. I was proud to see the outreach with so many Maine companies who helped with PPE, and the numerous business leaders who weighed in on our safe economic reopening. Surely the balance between health and the economy was not an easy one for the Governor but our low numbers demonstrate that her strategy did work to protect us. Since March, I’ve been working hard to keep everyone in District 94 appraised of the latest developments and changes in policies. The incredible variety of pandemic related issues and problems I have helped people navigate, ranging from securing unemployment benefits to assisting with travelers stranded abroad, still astounds me, but it has been a privilege to help during this time of crisis.

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

    No, I have been against this project from the beginning, and I regret that we won’t get a chance to decide by referendum. I am not convinced that we truly benefit, that the rates projected are accurate, and that the energy is actually “green.” Also, the more I learn about the impact of Quebec’s hydro dams on indigenous communities in Canada, the more opposed I am.

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

    It is truly an honor to represent the people of District 94, and I promise to continue to use my energy, compassion and common sense to be a strong voice for the people of Camden, Islesboro and Rockport.