Herbig, Giles tackle issues at candidates' forum

By Stephanie Grinnell | Oct 05, 2018
Courtesy of: Steve Ryan

Belfast — There’s no doubt Waldo County’s next senator has deep roots in the area. The two candidates seeking election in District 11, Erin Herbig and Jayne Crosby Giles, both highlighted their connections during opening remarks Oct. 3 at the Crosby Center, where they were speaking during a public forum.

Giles, noting she was born in Belfast, pointed out various areas of the former school, at which she attended junior high before it closed.

“As I’m standing here, on this stage, I can’t image at that age, I ever thought I’d be standing in front of a group talking about serving in the Legislature,” she said. “But here I am.”

This is not the first time Giles has campaigned, or served in the Legislature. She was elected to two terms in the House of Representatives, in what was then District 43 representing Belfast, Belmont and Northport.

She left politics in 2010 and said because it’s been eight years, she embarked on a listening tour early in her campaign. Speaking with people on the tour, the Republican candidate said she learned there are three important issues to Waldo County residents: small business, kids and families, and seniors.

Herbig, too, is no stranger to campaigning. She’s served the past eight years as the representative for House District 97, which includes Belfast, Waldo and Northport. She is House majority leader and a member of a number of state committees.

During her “Waldo County Works” tour, Herbig said some of the top issues were rising taxes, health care and lack of access to reliable internet. The Democratic candidate cited her family roots as well, saying she comes from a Waldo County poultry family.

“I never thought I would run for public office,” she said, adding the reason she did is that she was seeing so many young people leaving the state. “ … (But) I really feel like I’m just getting started,” she said.

The two candidates also answered questions on a variety of topics gathered through a survey and narrowed by the event sponsors, Belfast Area Chamber of Commerce, Our Town Belfast and The Republican Journal.

On the issue of broadband internet availability, Giles pointed to the need for better infrastructure and funding. At the same time, she said small local companies such as UniTel are filling in gaps. As well, she said, there are public sources of internet access for those who need it.

“There are other places — libraries and schools — to access the internet that aren’t as convenient, but those resources are there,” Giles said.

Availability shouldn’t be the only consideration, she said, adding the cost of the access also is important.

“It’s not just about bringing in the technology,” Giles said.

Funding for better internet access could come from a bond or as part of the regular budget process, she said.

Another part of the problem, Herbig said, is knowing where fiber-optic cable already exists. She said she heard from Innovosea in Morrill the internet here did not allow for reliable video conferencing. A few months after she delved into the process, Herbig said she got a call from FairPoint Communications, which advised her that “15 feet in front of the business, there’s fiber-optic cable.”

Digital literacy, including classes offered by Unity Foundation, is needed as well, Herbig said.

“It doesn’t matter if the access is there if people don’t know how to use it,” she said.

Herbig agreed more funding is needed to expand access and said she intents to submit a $25 million bond to send to voters.

“It’s a utility to us at this point,” she said. “It’s time for the state to make an investment in this.”

Both candidates agreed that expanding Medicaid would go a long way in tackling a number of health care issues. Currently, Medicaid expansion is on hold, as Gov. Paul LePage has submitted required documents but has urged federal officials to reject expansion of the health care program that could add another 70,000 Mainers to its rolls. LePage, according to Portland Press Herald, told federal officials “not one dime of the hundreds of millions of dollars that will be needed to pay for the state’s share of the expansion has been appropriated.”

Giles said, “I believe (Medicaid expansion) is something we need to work toward fulfilling,” adding wellness and how people take care of themselves also should be prioritized. With preventive wellness programs, people are healthier overall and that decreases insurance costs, she said.

Herbig said she, as a legislator, voted several times in favor of expanding Medicaid and “was really glad to see it passed” by voters in November 2017.  In addition to expanding the Medicaid program, she said she would like to see a bureau established to oversee prescription drug costs.

“Because your medicine isn’t going to work if you can’t afford to go buy it,” she said.

The increasing addiction problems in Waldo County and the state also would benefit from Medicaid expansion, both candidates said.

A better connection with local employers will help solve a workforce shortage, according to Herbig. She said while there are resources available to develop the workforce, more specific local offerings are needed. Part of the solution, Herbig said, is establishing a community college at Waldo County Tech Center.

“I’m fully with Rep. Herbig on this,” Giles said, “bringing a community college here.”

But, she said, existing workforce development programs also are “crying out for resources.” More efforts such as Maine Ocean School, a magnet school aimed at marine trades, should be developed as well, Giles said.

Education funding is close to the mandated 55-percent level, Giles said, but it’s not just the percentage of state funding that should be considered when it comes to education.

“You’ve got to look at how and where you’re spending that money,” she said.

The first step is looking at administration costs, and encouraging consolidation and collaboration to save dollars, Giles said.

Higher salaries to retain quality teachers is another factor to consider, Herbig said.

“Our economy is doing well, there’s no excuse for us to not be paying the 55 percent,” she said.

The two candidates offered different takes on tax reform benefiting Waldo County. Giles spoke to taxes she said are currently harming the area — meals and lodging taxes. But also, she said, it is important to lower property taxes.

Herbig concurred that high property taxes negatively impact the area.

“The first thing we can do is grow the pie bigger by attracting a quality workforce,” she said.

Both praised the citizen referendum process, with Herbig calling it “a valuable tool.” She said the process can be improved and steps already have been taken to strengthen it such as notarizing signatures. Giles suggested improvements to the process as well, including simple wording.

“It should not be confusing,” she said. “ … The more you can make the question clear, understandable and enactable.” There should be training for petition collectors as well, she said.

Herbig said major contributors behind citizen referendum questions should be disclosed. Sometimes, as they are written, referendums can cause problems, she said, but legislators should not “blatantly reverse” the will of the voters.

The full video of the forum can be viewed online at https://vimeo.com/user3645923.

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Stephanie Grinnell
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Stephanie is editor of The Republican Journal in Belfast. She previously served as editor of Camden Herald following its return in April 2012.

Stephanie also was editor of VillageSoup's Capital Weekly in Augusta and has nearly a decade of experience in the newspaper business ranging from southern and central Maine to Waldo County.

Outside the office, she enjoys reading, cooking and gardening.

Stephanie lives in Washington with her husband Jeff, four children, a dog named Chewbacca, a rabbit and chickens.

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