“All politics are local.” The words of past House Speaker Tip O’Neill took on new meaning for me recently when I visited a class of fourth graders studying Dr. Seuss. As a guest reader, I shared my favorite Cat in the Hat stories. When I finished and was ready to leave, their teacher asked the students to thank me. As they did, one very quiet boy asked me, “Why are we thanking you for leaving – shouldn’t we be asking you to stay?”
I have had many “ah-ha” moments like this while crisscrossing Waldo County on my 16-week “Jayne’s Listening Tour” for Maine Senate.
As I read to the students, I became more deeply aware of how important it is to stay – to spend my time listening and learning in Waldo County, for everyone has a story to share. With over 100 days on tour, I am visiting small businesses, farmers, schools, town offices, health care providers, social workers and more. Here’s what I’ve learned, so far.
1) Small business and farmers: Many business owners and farmers report that they are doing well benefiting from a strong economy. Businesses are expanding and the number of new farms are growing. However, finding skilled employees is a challenge and some owners are concerned about higher wage costs. Further, investment in technology remains key to staying competitive. In western Waldo County, our dairy farms face uncertain price regulations. Despite these challenges, family-owned companies are preparing sons and daughters to be the next generation of owners, plus, entrepreneurs are starting new businesses. Maine’s Legislature can help with public policies that support growth, investment, and transition.
2) Employees: In March, I attended the Belfast Chamber of Commerce's Job Fair at the University of Maine Hutchinson Center. With low unemployment, businesses are challenged to find skilled workers. I spoke to employers who explained that to attract qualified employees they may offer bonuses, hire from across the state, or provide educational benefits. More legislative action that supports apprenticeships, training, and mentoring is needed to help job seekers develop valuable skills. Building stronger connections between employers and schools will also help create better pathways for employees.
3) Education: I visited two public elementary and two private preschool classrooms. Our teachers are doing an amazing job. One concern, though, is that not all children are able to attend due to lack of space, cost, or transportation. As a result, students enter kindergarten at different levels of school-readiness. Research shows that directing more resources to early childhood education improves learning results. Preparing young children for school early on results in fewer learning disabilities and challenges later. Providing more state resources for early childhood education is a smart investment.
4) Rural healthcare, seniors and veterans: Let me share three excellent examples of quality care that I witnessed: 1) The Gary Owen House provides temporary housing for veterans in transition. 2) Private Home Care, Inc., started seven years ago by Kathy Strout, provides essential in-home care to seniors. 3) Tall Pines is a high-quality center for those in need of residential living or extended care. As our population ages, lawmakers need increased focus on identifying the best care for seniors and veterans.
5) Affordable housing: Several local realtors shared stories and statistics regarding the lack of homes being sold. With so few to sell, prices are rising making it more difficult for working families and first-time homeowners to buy. Plus, our housing stock is older and more expensive to heat and maintain. Legislators may help solve this problem with policies that support investment in new housing, home restoration and weatherization, plus, affordable mortgage programs.
6) Transportation: Waldo County has a poverty rate that is 14 percent higher than the state average leaving many in need of community services, including transportation. Food, heat, and access to medical care are impossible – if folks do not have transportation. I heard many real-life stories: a) A social worker shared her concern for a single mom without a ride to the store or food cupboard to feed her children. b) Families with special needs children struggle to bring their kids to preschool and doctor appointments. c) Islesboro residents, facing a doubling in ferry rates, may cut back on essential trips to the mainland because of cost. Maine needs a comprehensive transportation plan, particularly, for rural communities.
As I learn more about these and other concerns, I keep in mind that fourth-grade boy who wanted me to stay. I think about his classmates, teachers, and school. I realize how critical it is to get it right and solve these concerns so that he, and others, may grow up and do their very best – right here, in Waldo County.
Jayne Crosby Giles is a candidate for the Maine Senate seat from Waldo County (District 11). Ms. Giles served in the Maine House of Representatives from 2006-2010 representing Belfast, Belmont and Northport. While there, she was a member of the Appropriations & Financial Affairs Committee. She is a former community banker who in 2016 was named the US Small Business Administration’s Financial Services Champion for Maine and New England. From 2010-2016, she was the CEO for MaineStream Finance, a nonprofit community bank based in Bangor. Giles is married and lives in Belfast. For more information about her campaign visitwww.jayneformaine.com or on Facebook at Jayne Giles for Maine Senate or call (207) 944-0380.