House District 94

Casas supports compromise, common sense, right-sizing government

By Susan Mustapich | Oct 10, 2018

Independent Rep. Owen Casas is running for reelection in Maine House District 94 to continue work on the pressing issues, challenges and opportunities Maine faces, he said. The district includes Camden, Rockport and Islesboro.

He said he does not have an agenda, but approaches issues by looking at what strengths he can bring, what compromises he can help achieve, and by trying to get positive results for the people of Maine. During his first term, he has "built some great relationships with people in the House and Senate in state government, and look[s] forward to continuing to build on those relations to get positive outcomes."

He was born and raised in the Midcoast town of Washington, and worked along the coast in Camden dish washing at Bay View Lobster, raking blueberries around the local area, and in high school started working in stone masonry.

He joined the Marine Corps at 18, and served four and a half years' active duty, including a nine-month tour in Fallujah, Iraq. When he returned home, he worked in commercial fishing, started college at URock, and earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Maine. He met his wife, Marci, when he started college. They now have three children and live in Rockport. He recently completed a three-year term on the Rockport Select Board.

When it comes to Maine's tax rate, Casas said he favors right-sizing government to fit the state's unique situation. He favors balancing revenues with expenditures and figuring out what the appropriate levels are. He said he does not support dramatically lowering the tax rate, but is concerned with tax surcharges that kick in, he said, at a much lower dollar amount than in other states, "because Maine is not awash with wealthy people." For example, he cited the 3 percent surcharge on income above $200,000 to support K-12 education that was passed by citizen's initiative in 2016 and later overturned by the Legislature.

He cited recent work by Independents in the Legislature on tax conformity as an example of what they can do, by bringing "our strengths of compromise and common sense to the table."

Maine's tax code "was not talking properly" with the federal tax code, he said, and had to be adjusted. There there were many ways to do this, and Independents took this on as a challenge, and an opportunity to seek a good compromise, he said. They met with "the governor's folks, House Democrats and Republicans, to try to figure out everyone's priorities and values, their go and no-go areas, what they were willing to support and willing to give up," he said.

The group of Independents crafted a framework, and handed it off to the taxation committee," he explained. After making minor tweaks, that committee passed the bill with a nearly unanimous vote. It went on to receive wide support in the House and Senate, and was not vetoed by the governor's office, he said.

One of the benefits of this bill is the doubling of the property tax fairness credit, he said.

Casas has consistently supported and voted in favor of Medicaid expansion, he said, to cover the 70,000 Mainers who could gain health coverage if it were implemented. He said he understood that the expansion came at a cost, but believed "the state coming up with its share to cover folks and the federal government coming up with its share" was the starting place. From there, Maine can begin to look for opportunities to cover the most people, while conserving precious tax dollars, and ensuring long-term sustainability of programs like Medicare and Medicaid, he said.

He works to address the opioid crisis both in the Legislature and the community. He said legislators now recognize that the daily loss of life to overdoses affects nearly everyone in Maine, and there is a need to take on the crisis in a robust way. He believes the state is beginning to commit needed finances to the crisis, approving $6.3 million for addiction recovery, using a model called "spoke-and-wheel."

Casas became aware of the opioid problem in the local community after finding hypodermic needles on the side of the road during a morning run, a half-mile from where his children get the school bus. Rockport's Public Works Department pitched in with roadside cleanups, and he began to attend meetings of local addiction recovery groups.

In Knox County, addiction is viewed with understanding and empathy, he said, but the county has not built a framework for combating the crisis, he said, as Waldo and Lincoln counties have. He is working with Rep. Pinny Beebe Center, D-Rockland, and others "on a two-pronged approach" of funding and policy support at the state level, and at the community level "building a support network and infrastructure that helps and meets folks right where they are at," he said.

Casas' views on guns are grounded in Maine's "strong history of responsible gun ownership," respect for 2nd Amendment rights laid out in the U.S. Constitution and for state gun rights, his experience with weapons as a Marine veteran, and his current gun ownership.

As a Marine and a gun owner, he felt he was in a unique situation to address  "gun regulations and some responsible laws we could potentially pass." While planning to introduce a bill on universal background checks, he sought the views of the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine, Gun Owners of Maine, and the National Rifle Association. Despite his approach, he said, he "paid a good price" when his outreach efforts were "used to generate revenue to fight and attack people like me that put in bills for commonsense gun control."

He admitted it was tough and wryly noted that his work on background checks earned him a place on the Gun Owners of Maine's "wall of shame," simply for "trying to solve a problem everyone agrees should be solved." He said despite the results, he would do it again.

Casas supports resource officers in schools, "if that's what the community and school board thinks is appropriate." He also supports using some state revenue to offset the costs of additional safety measures, such as adding locks to doors and emergency planning. He sees "a delicate balance in adding more security to schools, while striving not to put students on edge and affect their learning environment." He does not believe Maine should "rest on its laurels," even though the state has not seen the level of violence other states have.

Casas supports citizen initiated referendums, and citizen vetoes, and believes they are both tools the public can use. He likes an idea that would change the referendum signature-gathering process to require that signatures proportionally represent Maine's first and second districts. While this would not affect the actual vote on a referendum, he said it would give more of a voice to rural Maine. He said a concern with referendums is that they are more heavily supported in the southern, more urban, part of the state.

Casas supports open primaries, which would allow the large block of Independents to vote in either the Democratic or Republican primary. He takes issue with the people of Maine paying for primaries, which are nominating events that Independents cannot participate in. He said the two parties should pay for their primaries, which he compared to private clubs.

Casas sees an opportunity to reintroduce more moderate and less partisan politics into government by allowing Independents to choose to vote in the primary of a registered party of their choice, whether it be Democratic, Republican, Libertarian, Green or something else.

The current party structure "attracts the small, really loyal base of each party that comes out to vote in the primaries," he said, and "will continue to produce candidates that share very strong, highly partisan ideologies."

He said "we won't necessarily see those more moderate candidates if the folks in the middle, who aren't registering in a party," are not given more of a voice in choosing the candidates who will run in the general election.

 

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Susan M Mustapich
Assistant Editor
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Susan Mustapich is assistant editor of The Camden Herald. She has lived in Knox County since 1995 and worked as a reporter at both The Camden Herald and The Courier-Gazette. She has covered the towns and schools of Camden, Rockport, Lincolnville, Hope and Appleton, as well as Knox County government and the courts.

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