The election on November 4th will determine the make-up of the 127th Maine Legislature and the term of the 126th Legislature will end the first week of December when the newly elected and re-elected legislators will be sworn in.
I am very grateful that voters gave me the opportunity to serve in the 126th legislature as the representative for the half of Windham that makes up District 111. I have learned a great deal about our state government including who serves, both elected and not elected, when and how citizens participate and how the system does and doesn’t work. I learned that democracy is alive in Augusta. The majority of representatives and senators are there because they care how our state is run and they want to influence how it does. The quality of the non-partisan (not elected) staff is very high. They are our neighbors who work hard for us to provide the services that we have agreed are done better together than individually.
I have also seen that for our government to work well it requires all of us to be involved, to identify issues and possible solutions and to take responsibility for educating ourselves by listening to all sides and seeking to understand before drawing conclusions.
I decided to run for the legislature because I was upset about the lack of understanding about the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and why it is so important that we create a system of universal health insurance coverage. Our governor had declared that Maine would not participate in the expansion of eligibility for Medicaid which is a key part of how the ACA planned to cover everybody. As a primary care doctor, I felt that not enough people understood our complex and unfair system of financing health care or why leaving people uninsured results in higher costs and worse outcomes for everyone. I had cut back from full time work to phase into retirement and I decided I needed to get involved.
I was also worried that we were losing our democracy to sound bites and ideologies and a failure of every citizen to accept responsibility for participating in making our government work. My first committee public hearing, at which representatives and senators of both parties heard from advocates for and opponents of proposed laws, proved that democracy is still alive in Augusta. I have also learned that our media contributes to misperceptions about how our government works by reporting only on areas of disagreement rather than include all the areas on which we agree. The areas of disagreement are usually difficult problems and require everyone to work together on solutions.
I saw examples of bipartisan collaboration to pass a number of important bills. Most important of these were balanced budgets two years in a row despite financially difficult times. The hours of work put in by the members of the Appropriations Committee to look at every item in the budget, hear from hundreds of people who would be affected by changes and work to find solutions acceptable to all members, represents an extraordinarily high level of public service.
In the areas most important to me, public health and education, I saw some successes and some failures. We were able, with bipartisan support, to restore funding for the HIV Prevention Education Program which has been in place since the early 1990s and helps to keep our teen pregnancy rate, STD and HIV infection rates lower than most other areas of the country. We brought forward five different approaches to the Medicaid expansion bill, four of them with compromises suggested by our Republican colleagues. Each of these bills passed only to be vetoed by the Governor. Each time we failed to override the veto by two or three votes. This is my biggest disappointment.
After thinking about my first term I had decided to run for re-election when I developed a relapse of problems from a herniated disc in my low back. I was able to complete the legislative session before I had surgery. My period of decreased function, along with some needs of my family, caused me to reflect on my ability to carry out my responsibilities in the next legislature if re-elected. With regret about leaving before finishing the goals for which I ran, I withdrew from the race. It has helped that Jennie Butler agreed to run for this seat when I withdrew. Jennie is a long term resident of our district and a just retired teacher of math from Windham High School. She understands the importance of education and has firsthand experience with what is and isn’t working in our educational system. She has the skills to solve problems and knows that there can be various ways to find solutions. I am giving her my full support.