Q&A: Maine House District 94 Candidate Vicki Doudera

Tue, 09/25/2018 - 7:45pm

I grew up in a small split-level house a mile from what was then Schaefer Stadium. Believe it or not, the area was rural then and we could walk on old carriage roads through the woods to watch the Pats play – no tickets necessary!  I made extra money babysitting for some of the players’ kids and worked as a lifeguard at our town pond in the summer.  Our family spent a lot of time in Vermont, where my grandparents lived, and those visits instilled a love of the outdoors and nature. We didn’t have the money for expensive vacations but we did go camping, canoeing and fishing at State Parks around New England, and my brother and I loved it.

My high school was a regional public one, where I ran track and played field hockey. Thanks to good grades, my sports, and financial aid, I attended Hamilton College, where I held down a series of work study jobs and continued to play sports. I majored in Comparative Literature, minored in French, and found a job in Boston after graduation.

I came to Maine a few years later with my future husband, Ed, very little money, and the dream of starting a business.  We found a run-down Victorian on Route 1, 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, 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.

I’m running for Representative because I believe I have the skills to make a real difference for Maine. My current position as an officer for the Camden Conservation Commission has shown me the power of legislation as a way to effect change, and like many of you, I’m tired of the anger in Augusta. Too many important things are not getting done. I’m a communicator who knows how to listen and a negotiator – skills I have honed in fifteen years of real estate. I have real-world business experience, creativity, and a vision for a brighter future for Maine, and I’m eager to work with anyone who wants to move our state forward.

 Penobscot Bay Pilot has posed questions to each candidate running for District Attorney, Maine Senate and Legislature, providing the opportunity for the public to better understand their position on issues important to the state. The candidates have responded with their individual written answers.

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

1. We need a healthy Maine, starting with quality, affordable healthcare. I support efforts to expand Medicaid so more Mainers have access to the healthcare they desperately need. We’ve got to stand up to pharmaceutical companies to keep prescription costs affordable for seniors and children, and make sure women do not lose access to maternal and reproductive health care, especially in rural parts of the state.

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. We also have to fight harder to solve the two biggest public health issues facing our state:  the opioid crisis and the spread of tick-borne illnesses. 

Training for law enforcement, funding for treatment centers, and removal of the stigma of addiction are needed to fight the opioid scourge; while tick related diseases (Maine now leads the nation in Lyme incidence) need continued research dollars, including more money for UMaine’s Diagnostic lab; a statewide response plan;  and more legislation aimed at climate change. Despite what our current governor thinks, there is a direct link between our changing climate and health.

2. Another key issue: Maine’s labor force is shrinking, affecting businesses in every corner of the state, caused by a declining population and a lack of trained workers.  We see this first hand in our communities—on Islesboro, where some stores struggle to stay open all week – and in Camden, where hospitality businesses do not have the help they need. 

Our focus should be on the thousands of small business owners who are job creators for Maine; making sure we have training in place for the careers of the future; and ways to incentivize young people to stay or return to the state, by helping with their college debt or guiding them toward mentoring and apprenticeships. We must continue to improve broadband and other infrastructure in this state to make it easier for businesses to thrive, and put the welcome mat out for people from other places who wish to work here and make Maine their home.

3. A third pressing concern is Maine’s children, many of whom need our help. When I wrote the first edition of Moving to Maine in 2000, we were named the best place in the country to raise kids. Now, we are headed in the opposite direction and our state faces rising child poverty rates and growing food insecurity. Right here in our community, almost one quarter of the children at Camden Rockport Elementary are food insecure, and Maine ranks third worst in the nation for “very low” food security—real hunger. It’s not right that Maine children should suffer more than children in Vermont, Montana or North Dakota, and there’s no reason that Maine families should be hungrier than those in neighboring states.

Maine kids also deserve quality schools with good teachers; a clean, healthy environment; homes where they are safe; and gun laws that protect them as much as possible. It sounds trite to say our kids are our future, but it’s the truth. As your Representative, I will stand up for Maine’s children and ensure they get the best start possible. 

 

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

I was glad to see that a new compromise tax deal passed in September includes some property tax relief, incentives for paid family medical leave and child and dependent care tax credits. Other programs, such as the Homestead Exemption, and the recent Tax Fairness Credit, need to stay in place and be strengthened whenever possible to help Maine families and seniors who are struggling.

Funding for education at the state level greatly impacts our community, as over 60 percent of our local property taxes go to fund our schools, and the state could help reduce that amount by fulfilling its legal obligation to fully fund our schools at 55 percent. This requirement was put in place by voters in 2004 to help towns and cities slow the rise in property taxes, and solve inequalities in funding between school districts, and since then the Legislature has never met this obligation. 

 

Scientists have reported that the Gulf of Maine is warming. How will you work to ensure that Maine’s fisheries are vital and productive, and that the habitat and marine life are protected?

A few years ago, my daughter participated in a NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) survey of Northern shrimp and ground fish in the Gulf of Maine. At the end of 10 days they’d hauled in hundreds of samples of ground fish, but only TWO individual Northern shrimp.  This species is very sensitive to climate change, and scientists say our warming ocean temperatures are mainly to blame for their record low numbers.

The collapse of this fishery – shut down since 2013 — is just another example of how global warming is damaging our way of life here in Maine.  An important first step in confronting this challenge is electing government leaders that recognize and acknowledge this new scenario to be true. 

We have a duty to our oceans to continue to reduce the rate of climate change through strategies that reduce greenhouse gas sources and emissions, and policies that enhance greenhouse gas storages.  Tracking energy usage, setting targets for reduction, education, carbon management – all these approaches are in play, but clearly we need to do more. We also need a focus on keeping our harbors clean and work to reduce plastic pollution and chemicals – clear threats to marine life, as evidenced by the news this summer that the seal population is at higher risk of disease because of weakened immune systems from decades of chemical pollution.

As for our fisheries, we need to keep conservation measures that are working in place; for example, strict management of the scallop harvest has allowed this industry to rebuild from collapse in the mid-2000s. We need to be open to expansion of our traditional fisheries through innovation and farming, and support aquaculture efforts that make sense. As for our lobster fishery, we need to do what we can to ensure the success of this important economic driver for Maine, and be proactive whenever possible. At the Fisherman’s Forum back in March, a speaker estimated the impact from the lobster supply chain to be at least $1 billion.

Finally, climate change threatens some fisheries but opens opportunities for others. We need to be ready to respond to the changes that are happening around us, even as we try to mitigate their effects.

 

What are your positions on energy policies and use of renewable energy (solar, wind, tidal turbine)? Should the state of Maine encourage renewables with tax and policy development?

Energy policy is about more than just the price. It’s also about conserving energy, creating energy independence, and attracting investment to the state to create an industry that can entice Maine kids to stay and work here, as well as attract young workers to move here with their families.

I am a staunch supporter of clean, renewable energy – solar, wind, tidal, turbine, and wood — because these industries not only move us away from our reliance on fossil fuels, but they create good-paying jobs for skilled laborers.  The state should definitely be forward thinking and encourage renewables whenever possible because the economic and environmental benefits of these industries will build a brighter future for Maine.  

 

How do you want to see Maine laws governing the commercial growth and sale of marijuana to evolve?

In one word, slowly.  While the 2016 citizens’ initiative granted individuals the right to grow and possess a limited quantity of marijuana and anticipated the licensing of commercial activity, commercial efforts should proceed only after a full consideration of other factors and interests.  Just like alcohol sales are limited due to proximity to churches, and industrial land uses are not permitted in residential neighborhoods, local municipalities, reflecting the will of their inhabitants, must give commercial marijuana activity considerable scrutiny.

 

What issues are emerging from your conversations with the public as you go about your campaign, and what solutions do you envision? 

I’m talking with people about issues around healthcare, the need to expand broadband and our workforce, and worry over rising property taxes. I’ve already mentioned these concerns and possible solutions, but residents of Islesboro have an additional, overriding issue that bears discussion:  the recent doubling of their ferry rates. This increase threatens to damage the island’s economy, school, and way of life, and those who are hardest hit are the young families, seniors on fixed incomes, and businesspeople.

Residents of Islesboro support the need for a ferry rate increase, but they want one that is fair and equitable for all islands. To me, this means a system that is based on distance travelled, such as those used in Europe and in Alaska. We need to make a change, to think of our ferries in the same way we do highways, and charge travelers based on the distances they go. Revenue from our “marine highways” should be assessed just like we do on the Maine State Turnpike.

 

Voters approved expansion of Medicaid. How do you want to see that implemented and funded?

I want to see Medicaid expansion implemented quickly, because 70,000 Mainers are in need of healthcare, and nearly 60 percent of voters last November supported the ballot initiative to expand it. The money is there – the Legislature appropriated the funds to cover costs and expenses through 2019 – and as I understand it, additional funds can always be provided through the supplemental budget process should there be a shortfall, and there are Federal funds we are entitled to.

While we are implementing Medicaid expansion, let’s take the opportunity to connect those friends and neighbors with educational and economic opportunities, too. 

 

What is your position on the proposed 145-mile Central Maine Power transmission line that the company hopes to build from Quebec, through Beattie Township, and the expansion of 92 miles of existing corridor to Lewiston, and another 26.5 miles from Windsor to Wiscasset?

With the information currently available, I don’t believe the New England Clean Energy Connect transmission line is a good deal for Maine. It’s not clear whether it will provide any environmental benefits, such as reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and yet it poses a real threat to scenic and wildlife habitat in the pristine Kennebec River Gorge, three points on the Appalachian Trail, 263 wetlands, more than a hundred streams, and remote Beattie Pond. 

The Governor stated he would “push” the project through permitting, and that’s troubling, especially when concrete information about the sources of electricity served by the line and the environmental and carbon pollution associated with them are lacking. Maine needs to increase the use of renewable power to further reduce fossil fuel burning and meet greenhouse gas reduction goals, but I believe we should look to energy sources like wind and solar.  These types of renewable power have less environmental impact than big hydroelectric dams.

 

Two young Maine children were killed under horrific circumstances in 2017. How would you improve the caliber of DHHS, specifically child protective services?

The deaths of Marissa Kennedy and Kendall Chick are indeed horrific, and point to the real reforms needed within our child welfare system. The number one concern of DHHS’s child protective service must always be what is in the best interests of the child, and naturally that differs from case to case. Thankfully the current administration has recently acted to begin improving the system, with the Governor signing several bills: one, directing caseworkers to make “reasonable efforts” to reunify families in which children have been taken from their custody; two bills that provide caseworkers more access to information about cases, and a fourth allocating more than $21 million to add as many as 40 staff to help investigate child abuse.

This is certainly a good start, but Maine’s most vulnerable children compel us to make sure no child falls through the cracks. We need to be sure that policies are being followed, and that caseworkers are supported, paid fairly, have manageable and reasonable case loads, and that their opinions are valued, as they are the ones on the front lines.

 

What committees would you like to serve on and why? 

I’d like to serve on the Marine Resources Committee, because we are three coastal towns in District 94 and our harbors and coastlines are integral to our area’s economy, environment, and way of life. Serving as an officer of the Camden Conservation Commission has alerted me to the many issues affecting our oceans, not just the warming of the waters, but plastic pollution, rising sea levels, and threats to our commercial marine fisheries.

The Energy, Utilities, and Technology Committee is also interesting to me, because energy policy, resources, efficiency and conservation are key to making Maine succeed, as is improvement of the telecommunications industry. Our area has a wealth of knowledge in these areas and I would certainly tap into that expertise.

 

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

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. Improving the state’s infrastructure is key -- not just bridges, roads, and ferries -- but our digital infrastructure. Right now 80 percent of households and businesses in Maine do not have access to high-speed broadband, and three-quarters of households do not have a choice of providers. That’s crippling us – because no matter what business you are in today, whether you are a family farm raising free-range chickens or a team of architects designing houses, you need to be able to compete on the world stage.

When it comes to starting businesses here, it would be great to streamline the bureaucracy and consolidate some of the state agencies to make it easier for people with great ideas to get them going. The Maine Department of Labor recently predicted nearly zero job growth over the next 10 years, so we need to do everything we can to encourage small and micro-businesses.

I like Janet Mills’ idea of a “Welcome Home Program” to help former and future Mainers to bring their current job to Maine to work remotely and live here, as well as her plan to fund new Veteran business grants for veteran-owned small businesses.  Finally, I’ve talked about our need for skilled workers, but we also need people who are willing to do the jobs nobody else wants to tackle – such as picking apples at an orchard or making beds at a B&B. There are people who want to come into this country and help us, and here in Maine we need them. 

 

Does Maine have enough mental health care resources? If not, what needs to improve and how?

Maine does not have enough mental health resources, and people in crisis suffer because of our shortage of behavioral health resources.   The first thing that needs to happen to improve this situation is to implement Medicaid expansion, so that providers of mental health services can help even more Maine people.

Lack of coverage is a particular problem for people suffering from drug addiction. Of those seeking treatment for opiod and other addiction issues, 40 percent lack insurance of any kind. We also have to do away with the stigma associated with mental illness, and begin seeing mental illness as an important part of our overall wellbeing by integrating it with great primary care.

 

What is your vision for affordable health care?

I envision a Maine where all of us have access to affordable health care – where people don’t have to choose between medicines and food; where sick folks go to their primary care physician, not the emergency room; and where healthy eating, exercise and a healthy lifestyle are emphasized. As a state we should continue funding partnerships that stress substance use prevention, tobacco use and exposure, obesity prevention, and youth engagement and empowerment, while at the same time making sure those living in rural Maine have access to doctors and dentists.

 

Maine has built up a fiscal surplus. How should it be used?

We need to maintain our “rainy day fund” but we should also use the fiscal surplus to help Maine people live better lives – getting truly affordable health care coverage in this state; focusing on an economic plan that will help small and micro-business owners; assisting Maine students with their debt so that they can get to work here;  increasing affordable housing for seniors, veterans and those just starting out; making sure Maine kids all have safe drinking water; upgrading our roads, bridges and rails so that we can more safely get around;  rebrand ourselves from “vacationland” to a place where people put down roots, work, and add to our vibrancy.  Lastly, I’d like to see us creatively address our growing senior population, as they face challenges to aging in place and staying connected to their communities.  

 

What are your positions on the following November ballot questions?

Question 1: “Do you want to create the Universal Home Care Program to provide home-based assistance to people with disabilities and senior citizens, regardless of income, funded by a new 3.8% tax on individuals and families with Maine wage and adjusted gross income above the amount subject to Social Security taxes, which is $128,400 in 2018?"

I am voting no on this question. While I think taking care of our seniors and people with disabilities is important, I’m not supportive of the way it will be funded. Surtaxes are a scapegoat approach and our tax system needs to be comprehensive and fair. However – if this ballot initiative passes, the Legislature has a duty to implement it. Ignoring the will of the voters (as has been done with the 55% school funding and other initiatives) has been a huge problem in the past and has led to voter disillusionment. 

Question 2: “Do you favor a $30,000,000 bond issue to improve water quality, support the planning and construction of wastewater treatment facilities and assist homeowners whose homes are served by substandard or malfunctioning wastewater treatment systems?”

I support this bond issue as our water quality is critically important, and I’m familiar with the challenges created by poor wastewater systems from my work on the Conservation Commission. 

Question 3: “Do you favor a $106,000,000 bond issue, including $101,000,000 for construction, reconstruction and rehabilitation of highways and bridges and for facilities and equipment related to ports, piers, harbors, marine transportation, freight and passenger railroads, aviation, transit and bicycle and pedestrian trails, to be used to match an estimated $137,000,000 in federal and other funds, and $5,000,000 for the upgrade of municipal culverts at stream crossings?”

Yes, I support this measure. Our infrastructure received a “D” rating and we need to address these critically needed improvements. Passage of this is necessary for us to receive the estimated $137 million in federal matching funds to be used for transportation work in the state.

Question 4: “Do you favor a $49,000,000 bond issue to be matched by at least $49,000,000 in private and public funds to modernize and improve the facilities and infrastructure of Maine's public universities in order to expand workforce development capacity and to attract and retain students to strengthen Maine's economy and future workforce?”

Yes, I support this bond issue because we have to address our shrinking workforce or our economy will continue to suffer. This Question is closely tied to #5 which also will help Maine people and the economy.

Question 5: “Do you favor a $15,000,000 bond issue to improve educational programs by upgrading facilities at all 7 of Maine's community colleges in order to provide Maine people with access to high-skill, low-cost technical and career education?”

Yes – I am in total support of upgrading our community colleges as this will help with workforce development for Maine, and give young Mainers a good shot at jobs that are crucial for us.

 

Please feel free to expand or add any thoughts here that we have not touched upon.

Be kind. Work hard. Keep Learning.  I see those words nearly every day while walking my dog past Camden Rockport Middle School. It’s a great motto that I’ve taken as my own, with the addition of one more line:  Stand up for what you believe. Thanks everyone for reading, and thanks to the Pilot for giving us this forum. Please reach out with any questions.