Maine House District 94 Candidate Joan Welsh: The economy, health care, education, veterans
Incumbent Joan Welsh (D-Rockport) seeks reelection to the Maine House of Representatives serving Camden, Islesboro and Rockport. She is in a three-way race against Independent Owen Casas, of Rockport, and Ron Bovasso (R-Camden).
Welsh grew up in the west (California and Nevada) and attended Pomona College and the University of Colorado, earning a bachelor’s degree in English).
She was an Air Force wife of a rescue helicopter pilot who served in Viet Nam. They raised our family in Boulder, Colorado, where she lived for 25 years before moving to Maine in 1991.
Her work included being the cofounder and ED of a domestic violence organization in Colorado. She also served as chair of the Colorado Domestic Violence Coalition and the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. In Maine, she served as President/CEO of Hurricane Island Outward Bound through the 1990s, then as director of Student and Academic Affairs of Rockport College and Deputy Director of the Natural Resources Council of Maine. She retired in 2008 when she ran for the Maine Legislature.
PBP: What are the three most pressing issues facing Maine today, and how would you like to see them resolved?
The economy, health care and education.
Economy: We need to support our small businesses through access to capital (micro loans, CEI, FAME), technical support (via DECD, Chambers of Commerce, and others). We need to recruit and support renewable energy manufacturing and businesses, both wind (on and offshore that is appropriately placed), tidal power, solar power. We need to encourage our carbon fiber manufacturers (currently in boat building) to broaden production to renewable energy uses. We must pass Bonds 4 & 5 that invest in bioresearch and technology, an important emerging industry in our state, as well as Bond Issue 6 that will invest in important clean water infrastructures. These bonds will help job growth and economic activity.
Health Care: I hope to see the expansion of Medicaid to our 70,000 people who are still without insurance. This will help reduce the high costs of emergency room care and will keep people healthier so they are better able to hold down jobs. This also helps reduce dependence on welfare.
Education: We need a well educated workforce to help improve our economy. I hear of engineering and technical jobs that are going unfilled because of the lack of qualified applicants. I also hear of retiring trades people who cannot find younger people trained in the trades to fill their shoes. These are all well paying jobs that need workers and we need to attract young people into programs teaching these skills. We also need to assure we are offering the training that matches the needs. We need to increase state aid to our local schools and change funding for new charter schools so it doesn’t drain needed resources from our important existing public schools.
How will you protect the local (municipal) taxpayer as you attempt to help shape a state budget?
The best way to help our local property tax payer is to protect municipal revenue sharing. I fought hard to reinstate the revenue sharing that was eliminated in the last Governor’s budget, and will work again to not only preserve, but increase it. I will advocate increasing our aid to education that will alleviate local property taxes where 70% now goes towards our schools. This can be done through finding revenues from other sources, some cuts and/or through increasing some selected sales taxes on nonessential items.
How will you work to keep Maine’s fisheries vital and productive?
I have worked hard over the past six years to protect and promote Maine’s important fisheries. I supported the bill to fund the marketing of Maine lobsters and I was the lead sponsor of the Working Waterfronts bill. I will support methods to process our lobsters here in Maine rather than send them to Canada. As chair of the Environment and Natural Resources Committee I will continue to work to protect Maine’s rivers from pollution so clams and other shellfish are not contaminated by runoff.
I am currently serving on the Ocean Acidification Commission where we are researching and discussing ways to alleviate this emerging problem that has the potential to harm our shell fishing industries. I also have signed letters to DEP and the Army Corps of Engineers asking for an Environmental Impact Study of the Searsport dredging project. Before this project moves forward, we should know exactly what is in the material being dredged and how it should best be handled.
How do you envision Camden, Islesboro and Rockport in five years? What do the schools/education look like? What does the economy look like? What does the population look like?
Five years is not very long.
In five years, I envision a healthier business climate for our small businesses and an increasing population of young, skilled workers and their families. Unemployment is lower. I envision a healthy fishery and a solution to the Searsport dredging that supports commerce and protects the fishery.
I envision improved infrastructure: A natural gas pipeline that is extended along Route 17 into our area; an expansion of the GWI internet connection into Rockport and surrounding area, allowing more people and businesses to increase their productivity, better Internet availability for Islesboro; an improved sewer availability in Rockport; a successful implementation of Camden’s comprehensive plan goals.
I envision more insulated homes and businesses utilizing grants and guidance from the Efficiency Maine Trust and more use of alternative energy options (solar/wind).
I envision more state funding for our schools resulting in reduced property taxes. Our seniors are able to stay in their homes longer and are not priced out of their homes by property tax increases they cannot afford.
Our community continues to attract young and older entrepreneurs who are able to gain capital to invest in their ideas. Our creative economy is bringing more musicians, artists, filmmakers and multimedia artists here to live and we are becoming a strong hub for the arts and are known worldwide as an exciting and invigorating place to live and visit. Our conferences draw ever more exciting and innovative presenters and audiences. Finally, all of our citizens have access to health care and our community is working on coordinated, preventive health care solutions.
Do you support building a natural gas infrastructure (pipeline) through the region?
Yes, all the while keeping conservation and investment in renewable energy as priorities.
What is your position on alternative energy and state investment into it?
As evident in my previous statements, I think alternative energy is critical for our state and will help keep us from exporting millions of dollars out of the state and country. As a state, we should do all we can to attract and invest through bonds, tax incentives and whatever other methods available, to support these efforts. This is an emerging industry for our state when we are losing our pulp and paper mills. It is an opportunity we cannot afford to squander.
What is your position on legalizing marijuana?
I support medical marijuana, but have changed my mind about legalizing it for the general public. After talking at length with several medical providers as well as with Communities That Care staff and other youth workers, I am persuaded that this drug is far more detrimental to teenagers’ brain development than alcohol and that legalizing it will increase its accessibility to teens. I understand that it is a popular initiative (I have voted for it in the past) and that it may well prevail, but I have decided to vote no.
What issues are emerging from your conversations with the public as you go about your campaign, and what solutions do you envision?
Concerns about the economy, taxes and health care are what I am hearing most. People are doing much better than when I was visiting their doors in 2010. Yet the economy is still not what it needs to be. Please see my responses in the questions about the economy and health care in #2.
Tax reform is badly needed in our state and I strongly support reducing our income tax to 6.5 percent and increasing and expanding our sales tax on non essential items so more people who visit from out of state bring revenues to the state. We have among the lowest sales taxes in New England (except NH), and I do not believe that this type of tax deters people from coming to Maine. We are known as a “cheap date” according to the Brookings Report of 2012.
Is Maine a nanny state? What is your position on welfare reform?
We are just now beginning to emerge from a severe recession that caused many of our citizens to be out of work and to need help for their families. We are just beginning to see a decrease in unemployment, which means more of our people are finding work. Welfare is critically important to these individuals and families in need. I support seeking out fraud where and when it exists. Fraud in our welfare program or any state program for that matter is unacceptable. The best anti-poverty program is a good job. I will go to Augusta to fight for a strong and fair economy.
Please feel free to expand or add any thoughts here that we have not touched upon.
I have a strong record supporting veterans through the passage of many bills, such as granting all veterans in-state tuition rates at our public universities, access to property tax exemptions and financial support for the Veterans Treatment Court. I also have a strong record of protecting our environment while working to support economic development. In our community and state, the two work together. I look forward to continuing to work hard for our Camden, Islesboro and Rockport communities, listen to your voices and represent your needs.