BELFAST — It was standing room only at the Maine Second Congressional District Democratic Primary Candidate Forum at The University of Maine Hutchinson Center Jan. 21.
Organized by Waldo Indivisible, the event was cosponsored by Belfast Indivisible, Head of the Tide Indivisible, Midcoast Maine Indivisible, and the Waldo County Chapter of Maine AllCare.
The five candidates vying for the opportunity to run against Republican Bruce Poliquin include Jonathan Fulford, Jared Golden, Craig Olson, Tim Rich, and Lucas St. Clair. Maine’s primary elections are June 12.
Each was given the chance to make an opening statement before being tasked with answering questions written by the audience. Questions could be asked of all candidates, or certain candidates in particular, and covered a variety of topics, including climate change, healthcare, and the rights of native Maine tribes, among others.
All questions came from either citizens in Congressional District 2 or audience members.
One question directed to all five candidates was what they considered to be their top issue and how they would tackle that issue should they make it to Washington.
Tim Rich, a small business owner, was the first to answer the question, naming the opioid crisis in Maine as his top issue.
As a former health care reform advocate for the Service Employees International Union, Rich told the crowd he has personal experience with the opioid crisis, losing his best friend to a heroin overdose roughly 15 years earlier.
“That’s something that never really leaves you,” he said of the loss.
“There is a lot we could be doing that we haven’t been doing,” he said of the fight against opioid addiction.
“I know that Jared [Golden] and others in the legislature have worked hard and are moving things forward, but we’ve got to do it on a national level and we have to go big time. We need to remember and keep in mind that 80 percent [of people] who wind up addicted [to] heroin - 80 percent start with prescription pain medication,” he said in part. “I think we need to start going after pharmaceutical companies and physicians that over prescribe this poison.”
Rich, who is from Maine and currently lives on Mount Desert Island, opened a small take-out espresso shop, The Independent Cafe and Bar, in 2011.
Veteran Jared Golden was next to answer the question and said his top concern would be the economy.
“For me, through my service on the transportation committee, getting back to that focus on our economy,” he said in part. “One of the things that really bugs me is the state of our infrastructure. We underfund our roads here in Maine by about $160 million a year. That would be what it would take just to maintain what we have, which I know you all know is not competitive and not looking very good.”
Golden, who grew up in Leeds, is currently serving his second term in the Maine State Legislature, where he is assistant majority leader for the democrats. He also served four years in the Marine Corp and was deployed to both Afghanistan and Iraq.
Lucas St. Clair, a former small business owner, sportsman, and outdoor guide, told the crowd his top issue is the economy and jobs.
“I spent a lot of time traveling around this district and see some of the real hardship that people are facing because of the loss of a manufacturing economy predominantly,” he said in part. “I think the best way to approach it in Washington D.C. is focusing on what committees a congressman sits on. Congressman Poliquin sits on the financial services committee. This does not work for the people of the second district of Maine,” he said.
St. Clair, who currently sits on the Quimby Family Foundation Board, told the crowd, “the transportation committee, the agricultural committee, those are having real effects on, like [Golden] said, the infrastructure.”
For his top issue, Craig Olson chose affordable healthcare, noting that as a small business person raising a family, he has personal experience with the struggle to pay medical bills.
“We struggle with affordable healthcare in my family. We struggled with a $10,000 deductible when we were self-insuring ourselves and our family. We’re fortunate with the ACA to be a part of the ACA and have a $5,000 deductible, which is a decision we made based on our budget, and our budget for the family, and our budget for the business.”
Olson said, if elected, he would introduce a bill specifying that everyone in Congress must take the insurance that is offered in their respective state.
“If you had to navigate that system you would be making choices and you would be making changes. It would make your head spin how quickly we would have a health care system and health care insurance system that worked for everyone,” he said.
Olson, who grew up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin, has lived on Islesboro with his wife and children since 2001. He has served as a member of the Islesboro Planning Board for eight years, as an elected member of the Islesboro Board of Selectmen for three years, and as Chair of the Board for one year.
Jonathan Fulford, a carpenter and farmer who also owns Artisan Builders, was last to answer the question, and said his top issue remains climate change.
Fulford, who has twice unsuccessfully run against Mike Thibodeau for the Maine State Senate, talked not only about the importance of addressing climate change, but also about the many jobs that could be created to make necessary adjustments.
“If we do not tackle that it really won’t matter what else we do because we will not have a future for our children and for us to enjoy. So to tackle that with all the resources that it will take means we have to insulate and renovate every building, in every town, and [we] have to make it so that it is financially viable for every homeowner to do that. That’s a big job. That’s a lot of plumbers, that’s a lot of electricians, that’s a lot of work. But if we can give $1.5 trillion to the wealthiest people in this country, just so that they can have another island in the Bahamas, then we can do this and actually make a future.”
Following the forum, which drew to a close around 4:40 p.m. there was a chance for audience members to mingle with candidates.
The Maine Congressional District 2 democratic primary vote will take place June 12, with the winner set to battle Bruce Poliquin in November.
Erica Thoms can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org