After celebrations are over, the real work begins

By Mike Lange
Staff Writer

    Like most legislative candidates, Norm Higgins stayed up late on Nov. 4.
    But the next morning, the newly-elected State Representative from Dover-Foxcroft was on the road picking up campaign signs. “I picked up mine, (Sheriff) John Goggin’s and Dennis Dyer’s (Goggin’s opponent),” Higgins said. “I knew they were both working that day, so I made the offer. They were pleased.”

    That type of attitude is commonplace in Piscataquis County, a Republican stronghold where partisan politics takes a back seat to cordiality and common sense.
    The county is sending two freshmen lawmakers to the Maine House — Higgins and Paul Stearns — but they won’t have any problem finding their way around the capitol building.
    Both have spent plenty of time in Augusta during their tenure as school superintendents, often dealing with the bureaucracy that determines the spending level of education. Every candidate in our coverage area pointed out that state funding for local districts seems to decrease every year while new — and often expensive — mandates are being rolled out.
    So Higgins and Stearns will bring a much-needed level of experience to the Statehouse. And we need it, considering that educational costs are 60 to 80 percent of the average municipal budget.
    Paul Davis, to the surprise of no one, is back in the Maine Senate where he served for eight years previously. He worked well with his Democratic colleagues in the past and there’s no reason why he won’t share ideas across the aisle again.
    Maine is the only state in New England, and one of 23 nationally, to decline federal money to expand MaineCare under the new Affordable Health Care Act.
    Gov. Paul LePage and the vast majority of Republican lawmakers say that we can’t afford it. Opponents say that federal funds could be used to insure thousands of people who would normally not be able to afford coverage.
    The truth is probably somewhere in-between. Cutting someone off MaineCare coverage isn’t going to make them well again. They’re going to wind up in our emergency rooms and the hospitals will write most of the visits off as charity cases. When that happens, somebody is going to have to pay for either through increased taxes or higher insurance premiums.
    Our roads are getting better, but they still have a long way to go. Gasoline taxes simply aren’t the best way to fund highway improvements any longer. People aren’t driving as much and many are using more economical vehicles. Finding a long-term solution to keeping roads smooth and safe is going to be a huge challenge.
    Every candidate for office in Maine put job creation high on their priority list. But we’re a rural state with an aging population at the end of the transportation pipeline. We have high electricity costs and the expense of heating our homes and businesses is a huge burden.
    While ribbon-cutting ceremonies at new businesses are good public relations gimmicks, we need a sustainable economic plan to offset the loss of thousands of jobs in industries like papermaking.
    So congratulations to the winners. You have a tough road ahead, but you can handle it.
Mike Lange is a staff writer with the Piscataquis Observer. His opinions are his own and don’t necessarily reflect those of this newspaper.

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