Thursday, February 6, 2014

Congressional hopefuls: Maine candidates respond to SOTU

Published in the Portland Phoenix

In his State of the Union address last week, President Barack Obama laid out several initiatives for the coming year, focusing on boosting educational and economic opportunities for workers, and suggesting that his administration has felt the public backlash against the use of drones at home and abroad, as well as National Security Agency dragnet surveillance of all Americans.
Every member of Congress issued a statement that was widely publicized, with his or her reaction to the president’s speech; Maine’s delegation was no exception. What you didn’t hear elsewhere, though, is the perspective from those seeking to take their seats in Washington. The overall message: Partisanship is alive and well in Maine, too.
US Senate candidates
Shenna Bellows, Democrat
 The former executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine supports Obama’s call to raise the minimum wage to “at least $10.10,” though she notes that Obama’s move only affects workers on federal contracts, and only takes effect in 2015. But she criticized his “lack of a commitment to stop the controversial NSA spying program,” saying he “spoke of the need for privacy without talking about specific measures” to ensure it for all Americans. She also called out Obama’s rhetoric on protecting workers and the environment, contrasting those comments with his administration’s secretive negotiations about the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which leaked documents show is heavily biased in favor of corporate interests.
Erick Bennett, Republican The conservative political consultant who was convicted of domestic assault on his wife in an incident during which a police report says he threatened to kill her was critical of Obama, saying the government had spent too much money on the Affordable Care Act, and so much on the economic bailout that “we could have given a million dollars to every man, woman, and child in this country. That would have eliminated poverty and many other problems we face.” The economy is so bad, he said, that “there are plenty of Americans such as myself that will take whatever work they can to avoid starving.” But he objected to Obama’s proposals to raise workers’ income and provide additional savings methods, saying they were misusing the role of government. And he complained that the latest agreement with Iran, in which that country will for the first time open its nuclear facilities to outside inspectors, was “a bad deal” because it only lasts six months.
US House, 1st District candidates
Isaac Misiuk, Republican
 The former retail manager and real-estate agent now studying at the University of Southern Maine echoed a popular conservative talking point when he said he “would have liked to hear [Obama] apologize for lying” about people’s ability to keep their health-insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act. He also said it was unfair to ask “the rich to pay more in taxes” than those less well off. He also defended the 40-plus Republican-led US House votes to reverse the ACA, saying the president “has forgotten that Congress holds the ability to repeal laws.”
Richard Murphy, Independent The Army National Guardsman and property manager said the speech showed Obama “will continue to ignore traditional checks and balances found in the United States Constitution,” and criticized the president for “spending millions of taxpayer dollars on vacations when those who contribute to his salary and fund every trip he takes cannot afford to take a vacation themselves.” Murphy said he agreed with the president’s “list of topics of things that needed to be addressed,” but disagreed with Obama on how to go about it, saying the president is “out of touch with American taxpayers.”
US House, 2nd District
Emily Cain, Democrat
 The state senator from Penobscot County says many of Obama’s ideas “require more detail before knowing what their full impact would be,” but nevertheless says several ideas “have great potential.” One of those is the move to raise the minimum wage for some; Cain calls for Congress to raise the minimum wage for everyone. She also praised the president’s call for gender equity in pay. But she expressed concern that “Congress has proven itself to be polarizing and stubborn at times. That attitude gets us nowhere and does nothing to help the people they are elected to serve.” 
Troy Jackson, Democrat The Aroostook County logger and state senate majority leader state specifically praised Obama’s call to raise wages for federal contract employees. “Many in Congress don’t understand how important a living wage is because they have never had to struggle in a minimum wage job.” Jackson backs raising the minimum wage “to a living wage for all people,” not just federal contractors.
Alden Smith, Democrat The US Navy veteran (and current Navy reservist) agrees with Obama that jobs will go where there is high-quality infrastructure, and supports investment in Maine to attract new business. He supports raising the minimum wage: “The choices between heat and food will be eased a bit. I am sorry to see that the same raise is not applied to our elderly and our disabled veterans.” He supports ending the US military presence in the Middle East, but wants to ensure the Veterans Administration “is structured and equipped to meet the needs of our veterans in the coming years.”
Bruce Poliquin, Republican The former state treasurer was not directly reachable, but posted on Twitter and Facebook his reactions, which included agreeing with the president that “the poor and middle class have been left behind.” Poliquin asked “why opportunities have been shrinking during [Obama’s] economic ‘recovery.’” He objected to “a wasteful spending binge that has piled up an additional $5 trillion of debt with no plan to pay it off,” saying that Obama has “raised taxes on American families and the companies that employ them to among the highest in the industrialized world.”
Kevin Raye, Republican The former state senate president and co-owner of Raye’s Mustard Mill says he is “deeply troubled by the President’s vow to use Executive Orders to circumvent the will of the people’s elected representatives. The President sets a tone and, unfortunately, his divisive approach exacerbates the dysfunction that has become such an impediment to America’s ability to solve problems.”
Blaine Richardson, Independent The retired Navy captain and construction-business owner says Obama “made it very clear . . . that he is unwilling to work with the Congress to progress his agenda. This shows that he is no longer willing to maneuver within the traditional checks and balances found in the United States Constitution.” He heard Obama promote “more big government,” including “more regulations, more laws, more sanctions and more American involvement overseas.”