Penobscot Bay Pilot has posed questions to each candidate running for the Maine Senate District 11 seat encompassing all towns in Waldo County, providing the opportunity for the public to better understand their position on issues important to the town and region. The candidate responses are posted as they are returned, and are collected on the Pilot’s Elections Resource Page.
Among the candidates seeking the nomination are Glenn “Chip” Curry (Democrat), Duncan Milne (Republican), Charles Pattavina (Democrat) and Robyn Stanicki (Democrat).
Incumbent Erin Herbig decided to not seek re-election after accepting the City Manager position with the City of Belfast.
Please provide a concise biography of yourself.
Robyn is a Belfast resident and has lived in Waldo County for the past 9 years. Growing up in poverty, she experienced chronic homelessness, foster care, and struggled to succeed. She is now a clinical researcher employed by Dartmouth College, and assists Maine-based partners in coordinating projects related to substance use disorders in Maine. Robyn has been writing, advocating, and helping Maine implement sensible policies to reform the state’s welfare system, healthcare, and tax laws that magnify the effects of rising inequalities affecting our vulnerable residents. She has partnered with state agencies who invite Robyn’s perspective to restore social support systems, find ways to expand healthcare, and to put more education and training options on the table for Maine families. Robyn is a proud member of the LGBTQ community and lives with her bride-to-be Samantha and three children: Sarah, Lucas, and Evan.
What are the three most pressing issues facing Maine, as a state, today, and how would you like to see them resolved?
Maine’s people are hurting. Many families have difficulty supporting their children, getting to their job, staying healthy, and making enough money AND have time to live on it. Here are my three issues, all related to Maine’s greatest asset — us. 1. We need to expand our healthcare system. Maine has the resources to extend healthcare to as many people as possible, with the smart use of the ACA Marketplace and the Medicaid program. Later in this questionnaire I outline a sensible plan. 2. Maine is #1 in the Nation with the highest percentage of kids who report anxiety, depression, or ADHD. We need to closely examine the factors that are driving this alarming trend. Increasing mental health access and community services is critical to meeting the increasing mental health needs of our community, including crisis services and behavioral health services. Increasing the reimbursement rates with Mainecare savings will encourage agencies to hire more staff at increased pay to enhance this workforce sector. 3. Pathways out of Poverty: Mainers of all ages need to have ready and available opportunities to seek sustainable employment, education, and training. We’ve tried many approaches, and we need to remain aggressive. So far, we’ve worked hard to extend opportunities to working parents. We now need to help change the conversation about education. Career preparation costs should be borne by the industry that benefits from this experience, and it should be normal for industries to fund higher education pursuits. To this end, we need to pass comprehensive student loan forgiveness and refundable tax credits for all graduates, and not just STEM disciplines. While we are eager to retain out of state graduates, we also need to reevaluate how we view the capable, hard working people of Maine as a workforce and help them make meaningful contributions to their community. Investing in people always yields a return.
How will you protect the local (municipal) taxpayer as you help shape a state budget?
I understand how budget constraints can hurt small communities like the tiny towns in Waldo County. Even the Belfast City Manager needed to be creative with cuts to this year’s budget to allow for decreased revenue. This dynamic puts local leaders in a position to make decisions that ultimately hurt people, businesses, and sometimes have long term unintended consequences. Since municipal budgets across the county have huge allowances for public road maintenance, this is one place that I would like to start. I think we can begin conversations to explore a more equitable distribution of funds to maintain roads and easing the pressure of individual town budgets. I’m eager to see what the leaders in my towns have to suggest and I am working on finding out.
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?
As a poor person for many years, I struggle to understand why policymakers continue to offer unsustainable solutions to housing needs. I have been a renter all my life, handing my hard earned cash to a landowner to develop their material assets. The dream of homeownership is, in many experiences, just that-a dream, never fulfilled. We hear “being poor costs more” mainly due to the fact that renting is so much more expensive than buying. With lower wages, higher income volatility and less than perfect credit, low income people often spend a lifetime trying to qualify for a mortgage, to get the pleasure of paying it off in their 50’s and 60’s. We need to develop easier pathways to homeownership, plain and simple. Families who own homes will move less often, stability means children move from schools less often, and people can become more involved in their community if they are invested in it. What’s more, their monthly payments build a protective asset that can be passed onto future generations and ensure their family’s survival.
What legislative committees would you like to serve on and why?
1)Health and Human Services Committee, 2)Labor and Housing, and 3)Health Coverage Insurance/Financial: My professional experience and personal interest calls me to serve on one or more of these committees if invited to do so; I can contribute a valuable perspective to legislation considered by this group. I would also seek to join the Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, based on what my constituent’s needs are in Waldo County.
Maine’s economy relies on small and micro-businesses. How will you help the entrepreneur succeed in this state, especially given the pandemic?
Small Businesses need figurative mouth-to-mouth right now. The Paycheck Protection Program was designed to help businesses stay closed and keep people healthy. Our consumer culture, combined with a complete bungling of the program’s implementation meant that small business owners were left in the lurch. As more sequestered residents turn to mega online retailers, this is only going to get worse. It may be inevitable that many small businesses will not make it. Many others will, but with considerable assistance. We need to pressure the federal government to bail out small businesses as easily as they open their wallets for major corporations.
What is your vision for affordable health care?
The United States needs to get on board with a national healthcare program, and I feel that we are finally close to seeing this happen. But it may not happen soon enough to prevent suffering and loss of life in these challenging times. Maine and Waldo County in particular, suffers most from mental illness, substance use disorders, and is one of five counties with the highest elder populations in the state. While we push for Medicare for All, we can work smarter, and here’s how. Promoting the expansion of the Private Health Insurance Program (PHIP) makes common sense, reducing healthcare costs shouldered by taxpayers while putting those costs on the commercial insurance companies which can clearly pay their share. This also has pleasant consequences of those insurance companies now suddenly interested in working hard to drive down healthcare costs. Using the newly developed state healthcare marketplace, interested subscribers should be advised to choose a High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP) which has some of the lowest premiums. With deductibles as high as $9,000 it seems dubious. However, this approach lifts the burden of low income subscribers on Mainecare, poor people who have more complex health needs and negative health outcomes due to poverty. Instead, the bulk of the costs are shouldered by commercial insurance companies, which will pay 100% of remaining costs after the deductible and Out Of Pocket Maximums are met. This means that each subscriber only costs the state the amount of the deductible, plus the subscriber’s share of the premiums. Saving money on paying piecemeal for individual doctor’s visits and lab tests reduces administrative costs as well, saving money to increase mental health support as mentioned previously.
Does the State of Maine need to improve its public health system?
If we want to live well, advance our economy and the legacy of our State’s greatest asset, absolutely.
What are the greatest strengths in District 11, and how do you hope to support them?
Waldo County is full of grassroots activism. Even one person can be a movement, and that is evident here. I’ve met so many people inspired to make change-big or small-in our community. It’s time that we reframe the way we think about our greatest asset — our people — and prioritize long and short term solutions to help burdened people become part of the solutions in their lives and communities.
What are the greatest problems to address in District 11, and how do you intend to address them?
Rural Poverty: we need better transportation options, a good internet connection, and pathways out of poverty. I want to see more families in a position to make better, more informed and environmentally conscious decisions. Everyone should be able to afford to buy an electric car. Everyone should be recycling, not just people who can get to a facility or who understand how to do it. Young entrepreneurs need support and counseling in addition to seed capital to bring amazing and innovative businesses to our area.. And opportunities for folks who live far from Bangor, Augusta, or Portland need broadband internet access to have options like telehealth, working from home, or attending online classes. To bring these things to Waldo County, we need to restructure revenue sharing, promote a Green New Deal, promote and protect education funding, and find a way to light up our internet routers consistently and reliably.
What is your opinion on how Gov. Mills’ administration has handled the pandemic in the State of Maine?
It’s quite a year to have such a position, when everyone has an opinion about how you’re doing. I respect leaders who refuse to make hasty decisions, who deliberate with experts and rely on science and evidence-based recommendations before imposing law. I was disappointed in her decision to stop issuing lawfully earned unemployment benefits to individuals in a work release program and are soon to be reintegrating into the community. Eroding protective factors like the ability to have a job and a place to live when offenders are released from jail increases the likelihood that they will end up back there. Work programs have special benefit to the community, and these benefits do not simply disappear because a virus is present. Further, with the release of inmates serving their final months of their sentence, many of these individuals need that money to live and take care of families.
With some anticipating another wave of COVID-19 in the near future, what actions would you want to take in the new legislative term to shape how Maine responds to any resurgence?
We need to listen to and respect the guidance of leaders who have been to medical school or who have spent long hours in front of a microscope. We need to stop thinking that there is a bigger agenda that keeps our schools closed and our businesses hanging by a thread. If the first wave of this virus teaches us anything, it’s that we need to cooperate willingly as citizens, and the state needs to be willing to support us fully in this endeavor. Unfortunately, Maine and every state in the nation is unprepared to meet this crisis by itself. It will take the collective effort of all the states, united, to get this health emergency under control. As other countries return to work and school, we will be dealing with this for a long time unless we work together.
Do you support the proposed 145-mile Central Maine Power transmission line that the company hopes to build from Quebec to Massachusetts?
No. I think this is a poor deal for Maine. Since we have another option I would like to explore this.
Do you support the Nordic Aquafarm proposal, as it has been submitted to the local and state permitting committees and agencies?
I’m interested in learning more about how this project hopes to positively impact the community. This is such a hot issue with local residents that I have taken particular care to listen and learn. I also have been curious about how Bucksport will move forward with their salmon farm, operated by a Maine-based company, and how this municipality navigated similar environmental concerns. I would respect the opinions and decisions of the DEP and their recommendations to NAF to ensure that the project moves forward with minimal impact to our social, cultural, and ecological environs.
Free space! Is there anything else you want voters to know about you or your vision not addressed through this questionnaire?
Mainers have long been dissatisfied with their leaders. They feel that change isn’t happening fast enough so that they might be able to enjoy living the life that they work so hard for. As we continue to create problems, we expend so much energy doubling back to fix them. I’m interested in improving the quality of life for all Mainers, so that we can all turn and help our friends, neighbors, the environment, the economy, and finally move forward. We need to move away from a profitable business of problems and toward a new normal of creation, innovation, and realizing our full potential. I know that change is possible, because I’ve done it. I worked hard to be able to have a future in Maine, and I will work hard to ensure that your future is secure. Your vote is your voice. Take it one step further and elect a voice like yours-and I will work the hardest to make sure we are heard.