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. William Pluecker, Unenrolled, is seeking reelection to House District 95, which includes Appleton, Hope, part of Union, and Warren.
1. Please provide a concise biography of yourself.
My wife and I have been farming for almost 16 years now, growing vegetables and cows as we also raise our children on almost a hundred acres here on Finntown Road in Warren. We sell almost all our produce, milk, and beef through our 175 family Community Supported Agriculture program, and it is through our relationships with our customers that we have had the opportunity to learn about the joys and challenges in our community. Reba, my wife, and I have two children, Eli, who will be turning 15 in October and starting as a freshman at Medomak Valley High School, and Cecilia, 11, who is going to the Riley School in Rockport. We have worked to teach our children the value of hard work and self-reliance on our farm. We have also sought to teach them about being active members of our community, which we have modeled through active participation and leadership in our church, caring for our community through donating vegetables from the farm to local food pantries, and through our apprenticeship program where we have taught dozens of young farmers (many of whom have gone on to run their own businesses) the same values of self-reliance and hard work.
2. What are the three most pressing issues facing Maine, as a state, today, and how would you like to see them resolved?
The biggest issue that I believe will define the 130th Legislature, will be the State's recovery from the pandemic. This recovery will reach into many areas of legislation, but its effects on our economy, health, and education will be the top three issues facing Maine. The state budget is the overarching issue of the three as it will have a direct impact on our ability to fund our hospitals and schools. The legislature needs to recognize that we are going back into session with a tremendous shortfall in our annual budget that cannot be made up through tax increases. We need to trim spending and search for ways to truly invest our money so that it will return dividends to the investors, the taxpayers.
Places where these precious dollars can be invested are infrastructure, healthcare, and education. Without the broadband and physical infrastructure that will allow people to commute online or in real life, we cannot do the work that will allow our small businesses to recover. Without good educational opportunities, for retraining people who are out of work, especially in technical schools, we will not have the workers to fill the jobs so vital for restarting our economy. Finally, if we cannot be sure that there are hospital beds ready for us when we get sick, and offering quality medical care, people will not have the confidence that they can return to work and have a place to turn if they do become ill.
3. How will you protect the local (municipal) taxpayer as you help shape a state budget?
The majority of our property taxes go to funding our local schools. The state has never funded the schools to the mandated level of 55%. As we have all experienced, this has pushed up our property taxes through the years. At the same time, we have not seen the federal government fund their mandate for special education that has been the primary driver of cost within the school budget. All this has caused the home owners to be the last ones in a line of government mistakes that is pushing our elders out of their homes. We cannot allow COVID to be another excuse to push increased education expenses onto property tax payers. It just isn't fair. I have been in conversation with some folks on our school board to explore the idea of working on a law that would prohibit any state law that would push unfunded mandates on our school districts from the state level onto our taxpayers. This is in early stages, and once elected, I will be able to dedicate the time to do the research into the effects of such a law, but it seems a good idea to me.
We did a great job of increasing Municipal Revenue sharing in the last two years to our towns. Municipal Revenue sharing is the method the state uses for returning a portion of sales tax revenue to towns, and is used by towns to offset expenses that would otherwise have to be pushed onto property taxes. That progress is undoubtedly in jeopardy at this point. We need to do all we can to protect that progress.
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?
I am worried that we are going to see our problems with housing only increase due to COVID and the fact that so many people are out of work right now. People have been able to make it through the summer with unemployment from the state, but when winter comes with increased heating costs, and if people are still out of work, we could be facing serious issues as a community.
We need to see these issues through the lense that the state does not have the additional funds for investing in new programs right now. Nevertheless, if we are able to do the financial analysis of the cost of unhoused families versus the potential increase in cost to our healthcare and criminal justice systems, it might warrant increased investment from the state to keep them in their homes.
We do not have a good system for dealing with this issue at the moment in the state. Oftentimes, if people are having a hard time with their housing expenses the only place to turn is to General Assistance. We need to create incentives for municipalities and nonprofits to work together with construction companies, so that families in crisis have other places to turn besides General Assistance. Through a voucher system, we could start working with our private construction sector to incentivize the construction of low-cost housing for people who cannot afford more. The system could spread the cost amongst governmental, non-profit, and for-profit sectors, so that it is not just the state addressing the crisis. A voucher system could help strengthen these small businesses who would become employers for folks who are out of work.
5. What legislative committees would you like to serve on and why?
I have been on the Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry committee for the last two years. Serving on this committee has been one of the joys of being in the legislature for me. As a farmer with 15 years of experience in the industry, it is an area of which I have a real understanding. We have seen the numbers of small farmers selling into niche markets soar in Maine in the last decade while seeing large farms struggle to hold their own as they compete on a national level for dwindling profits. The COVID crisis revealed the fundamental weaknesses of our national food supply chains, and so, many people turned to their local farmers for groceries. Having a strong agricultural economy provides a resilience to our food supply in times of crisis; it keeps money in our local economy; and it preserves the land and waters which make our state such a special place. I am proud to have served a part in protecting the sector, and look forward to continuing the work.
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 a small business owner, I understand what it takes to be successful in a rural economy. For the most part, the government needs to get out of the small businesses' way. The small business owner understands their market and their product better than anyone in government will. There will be a shortage of revenue for these businesses as we get the state back up and running after the pandemic. They will be looking to the state for short term loans to cover cash flow issues as well as larger, long term loans that can allow them to invest in capital to take advantage of long term opportunities. It makes sense to use the funds coming from the federal government in the form of CARES act funding in this way. The Finance Authority of Maine runs some great programs that should be supported by the state government with funding.
7. What is your vision for affordable health care?
COVID has made it clear how access to healthcare is not just a way of helping individuals get well, but it is a fundamental infrastructure need for a well functioning society. When one of us is sick, it affects businesses and their ability to hire workers, it creates a vector for disease to spread throughout our community, and our long term prospects as a state suffer. We need to make sure that MaineCare is funded and available to those who need it. The program needs to be run efficiently and effectively to make sure it is serving those who need it, and those who can afford health insurance should be weaned off of it.
My children had MaineCare when they were younger, and then, as a family, we moved onto the health care exchange. We were kicked off of the exchange when I won this seat in 2018. Because of a loophole in the federal program, even though our family's income was decreasing, our health insurance expenses increased by about $3,000 annually. So many of us have to choose between buying health insurance or paying the rent. This is not healthy for the individual or society.
8. Does the State of Maine need to improve its public health system?
Yes, and we need to take into account the fact that it is extremely expensive to run rural hospitals. The hospitals are dependent upon unreasonably low reimbursement rates from the federal government funneled through the state. At the same time, we need to have health care access for all of our rural Maine residents. An hours long ride to get access to emergency care does not meet the definition of a well functioning health system. Without help from the federal level, the state needs to work hand in hand with our hospitals and rural care providers to make sure they have the resources they need to stay open. Just because we live in a rural community does not mean that we should have to live with second rate care.
9. What are the greatest strengths in your district, and how do you hope to support them?
We have all chosen to live here in our rural communities, to embrace the challenges and joys of living in this part of the state. Whether we moved here from away because we saw what a special place it is, or our family has been making a living on these soils or in these waters for generations, we know that this is a place that deserves our love. The people who live and earn a living in this place are its greatest strength, and we are the ones who know that we have to protect the things that make it so special: its rural character, the clean waters and air, the soil that grows the forests and crops. The people, who know how to build a life and a business that doesn't just take advantage of these resources, but builds something greater than what we found, are our greatest resource. We know that this district is not just about the coastal tourist industry, but about a long term strategy of resilience and regeneration that will grow us into a model of community responsibility and opportunity that couldn't exist anywhere else but in these coastal hills and fields.
10. What are the greatest problems to address in your district, and how do you intend to address them?
Our struggle to create economic opportunity in these rural spaces, especially in light of the pandemic, is undoubtedly our greatest challenge. The rest of the country likes to think that it is too expensive to build here due to transportation costs, and don't want to take advantage of our workforce or land. They think our people are too dispersed to open a big operation. They do know that we have natural beauty and a way of life that can't be beat, but they don't know how to build a business here.
We are the ones who know how to build businesses and take advantage of opportunities in our communities because this is where we live. So I would say we have to stop looking to businesses from away to move in and build opportunities for us. We have to do it ourselves, as people have been doing in our community for decades. We need to build small businesses that are locally based and take advantage of local resources that aren't dependent on investment from the outside, but that are built piece by piece through the years and employ our friends and neighbors around us. This model of small business development will be more nimble to take advantage of shifting markets in future situations like pandemics, and in the long term will be more sustainable, as we will not be at the mercy of big companies that can pick up and leave as quickly as they came.
Key to any business development in our community will be real development of broadband into our rural spaces. It is as important to individuals telecommuting as potential businesses developing. This will take long term investment in the infrastructure from the state, and we need to start funding it at a level that recognizes how vital it truly is.
11. What is your position on law enforcement reform in the State of Maine?
We are so lucky to have the dedicated law enforcement officers that we have in our community. We also need to recognize that they are working within a very difficult system that often places them at odds with the people in our community who are more likely to come into contact with them. The mentally ill and the poor are much more likely to have regular interactions with our criminal justice system than others. For us taxpayers, we have to question what is the work we want our police officers doing. Wouldn't it be better to have a mental health system that gets folks in crisis off the streets and properly cared for? If people are breaking laws because of their addiction, we need to get them into treatment so they can stop the cycle of going to jail repeatedly. As taxpayers we are going to pay for them one way or another, whether it is paying for a jail cell or treatment, it would be cheaper in the long term to get them healthy. For those coming from families that have faced issues of poverty for generations, shouldn't we have programs available to help them get education and work so that they can lift themselves out of those long term cycles? This is not the work our criminal justice system should be doing.
Race is a difficult conversation to have in a state that competes for being the whitest state in the country. We try to avoid the conversation of race as an issue people have in other places, not here, but race is something that we all live with. In my community in Warren, there was a community within our community for 150 years that named itself Peterborough though it was often known by other more derogatory names. That community of Black and Indiginous people flourished for over a century before dissolving due to community pressure and economic issues. The Peterborough cemetery, full of flags by the veterans' graves, is still here to mark its historical significance. There is no simple answer why there are so few people of color in our communities, and we should respond to invitations to talk about race with compassion and courage.
12. What are your thoughts about the state’s response to the pandemic?
I am pleased that we have come through the pandemic as well as we have considering the failures we have seen in other states. We are lucky and blessed to live in this state. At the time we were sent home from the State House, none of us knew what was to come or what the long term effects of the pandemic would be. We are now seeing that the economic and health impacts of the pandemic will be long term and severe. The sooner we can get back to work and get our economy running again, the sooner we can begin a real recovery financially and emotionally.
I am pleased that we have been given a little more leeway in terms of having local control over reopening our schools and town offices. One size does not fit all when it comes to the pandemic and the state's policies, and the state is beginning to see that as well.
I do wish that the legislature had a chance to return to the State House and do our work. I voted twice to return, but we were blocked by both the governor and the Republican party. I was democratically elected to do the work of the people of my district. There is no reason to leave that work undone. It inhibits democracy, and consolidates power in the hands of the executive branch. The legislature is a vital way for the people of Maine to speak up about the policies of the state whether it be about COVID response or any other issue. This is one of the reasons I am running. I want the chance to finish the work left undone by the pandemic response.
13. Do you support construction of the 145-mile Central Maine Power transmission line from Quebec to Massachusetts?
No. In fact, I am a plaintiff in a suit against CMP and the Bureau of Public Lands arguing that they should have asked for the legislature's approval before changing the use of some of Maine's Public Lands that the corridor goes through. As a member of the legislative committee overseeing the use of public lands, I should have had a say in the decision. I've been working to stop it and will continue to do so. The people of Maine deserve more and better.
14. Free space! Is there anything else you want voters to know about you or your vision not addressed through this questionnaire?
I have spoken to a lot of people in my district and those conversations will continue, but I have been trying to make clear in every conversation that I consider this campaign to be a long job interview with the people who are deciding whether or not they will be hiring me for a job. I am not doing this job for myself or any political party. I am doing this job for the people who are hiring me, the people of my district. Ultimately they are my bosses, and I am here to make sure I am doing the best job I can to represent them in the State House. I appreciate the faith you have put in me so far, and I hope you'll hire me back for another term on November 3.