Reflections on the 2013 session

In December when I was sworn into office, I knew I would be learning a lot. On Wednesday night – actually Thursday morning, but let’s not quibble over such things – this session of the Maine Legislature adjourned. I learned a lot and we all worked hard for the people of Maine.

Too often, unfortunately, what happens in the Legislature mirrors what happens during our campaigns. At some point, the conversation about important issues gets drowned out by the scandal and outrage of the day. That means that, like the conversations at doors shifting from important issues to the content of mailers, no one realizes just how many bills became law during this period of divided government because everyone’s busy focusing on a handful of pieces of legislation.

Sometimes that is driven by the issue. Sometimes it is driven by the amount of citizens contacting us demanding a change. Sadly, sometimes it is driven by the amount of money that corporations and organizations spend on campaigns and lobbyists. I supported expansion of the Maine Clean Elections Act which would help curb some of the excesses in campaign spending, but that did not come to pass in a way that was meaningful.

This session I assisted my colleagues on the Appropriations Committee with parts of the budget I knew a lot about, which helped them successfully revive the Low Cost Drugs for the Elderly Program and the Medicare Savings Program, among other things. Both of these programs are important measures that patch gaps in federal law, including the oft-mentioned “donut hole” in Medicare Part D. These programs are often the only thing between our seniors staying in their homes or losing them. I hope this budget passes, because the alternative is unthinkable.

There were other bills I worked hard on. My friend and colleague Representative Henry Beck and I worked on and successfully passed legislation which requires hospitals to perform pulse oximetry tests on infants to screen for congenital heart defects. 9 in every 1,000 babies are born with these defects, which can kill someone before they ever know there’s anything wrong. This exam will cost only $4 a child – a pittance considering how many lives it will save. The reason this important legislation existed at all was because of a family in our districts that told us of their concern. That’s why hearing people’s stories is so important – that is how we can make the changes that matter.

Also based on conversations in the district was a piece of legislation of my own. I submitted a bill which would require insurance companies to provide coverage for autism services from ages 5-21. Currently, they are only required to provide these services until the age of 5, and as someone who knows children who could have benefited from further services, I knew we could do better. The Insurance and Financial Services Committee agreed and this bill has been sent for study, the next step in it becoming a law.

With these victories also come some powerful losses, one of which I shall devote a lot of words to here. I reflect particularly on the reason I ran for this office in the first place, and the cause most important to my heart: to provide more access to health care for Maine people, particularly the working poor. MaineCare expansion died in the House on Wednesday night, two votes short of the votes necessary to override the Governor’s veto. I spent a lot of time working on this bill, probably more than any other. Unfortunately, it became a victim of national politics and ideology.

We had an opportunity to accept federal dollars, which have already been appropriated, in our state to provide health care to tens of thousands of people. These were our tax dollars, and a vote to expand was a vote to keep those tax dollars in our state helping our own people. Thanks to a compromise offered by Republican Senator Roger Katz of Augusta, we should have successfully allayed the fears of those who thought the federal government wouldn’t keep their end of the bargain. The expansion directly benefited working Mainers who don’t have access to health insurance through their jobs and don’t earn enough money to afford to buy it on the individual market.

I remember a time when the Maine Republican Party believed in helping people who helped themselves, and that is exactly what MaineCare expansion would have done. Unfortunately, it would seem that adherence to rigid ideology and a desire to do political harm to leaders on my side of the aisle won out.

Time will tell whether the people of Maine will support or reject their decision at the ballot box. I will, however, say that I am grateful for those on the other side who rejected the politics of the issue and did everything in their power to help it pass.

Many of the people who would have been helped by MaineCare expansion are people I know. I’ve met them – before, during, and after my campaign.

There’s the young man who can’t get a full time job teaching, even though he is qualified, but budget cuts to schools mean there aren’t a lot of jobs teaching music anymore.

There’s my friend’s son Sean, the only American with Cystic Fibrosis to have played professional hockey. He receives MaineCare because he intentionally doesn’t work enough hours to lose it. He wants to work more, but if he loses MaineCare, he dies, without question. Expansion would have meant he could work the extra hours he desires to.

There’s Doug, who had a good job but became disabled. So his disability check is too much for him to qualify for MaineCare, but not enough to purchase both health insurance and enough heating oil to keep his home warm. Losing his health insurance will kill him, while buying less heating oil just means he’s constantly freezing in his home. This isn’t a choice anyone should need to make. Expansion would mean Doug could be both healthy and warm.

There are thousands of others in my district alone who would benefit. One day in the Senate, I started to read their names and tell a little of their stories. I felt it was important to make sure that my colleagues in the Senate knew that these are not just “one person in 70,000″; they are not statistics. They are our friends, our family members, our neighbors. They are the person who may have served your coffee to you this morning. They all have stories to tell.

I will continue the fight for MaineCare expansion. It is not a choice; it is a moral imperative. Expansion turned into a political football, but it shouldn’t have been. The conversation shouldn’t have been about whether the Democrats were winners if it passed or losers if it failed. The only winners or losers here were the people who needed access to health care.

I’m not afraid to say that as I drove home early Thursday morning, after losing the battle for MaineCare, I cried. I cried because this is what people sent me there to do, to cut through the political nonsense and get to the real issues that affect them, and access to health care was the biggest one, the one I heard more about than anything else.

I was disappointed that the citizen legislators of our state couldn’t agree that accepting federal dollars, that we’ll pay to the federal government anyway, for our neighbors to get access to healthcare – and as a result increase jobs in the health care sector – was not as important as winning the political game.

Perhaps I was naive. I never saw this as a game to be won or lost. It is a life or death struggle for many of my fellow Mainers, including those I call my friends. If that makes me naive, then I’ll accept my naivete with honor. I’d rather be real, be myself and feel the pain of this loss than be cynical and treat this issue as some game to be won. I do not know what the next step in this fight is, but I know that I will stand up for the people of my district every step of the way.

That is why I went to Augusta. I promised I would never forget – and I have not forgotten.

Testimony on LD 347, An Act to Amend Insurance Coverage for Diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorders

I am pleased to be the sponsor of this simple, yet very important legislation. It would extend coverage by private insurers from age 5 to age 21. This would result in many families no longer requiring Medicaid coverage for their children; instead, they could use their employer-based health insurance to meet this need.

You can join Autism Speaks in lobbying for this legislation by clicking here. Or, you could contact the members of the Insurance and Financial Services Committee directly here, and ask them to vote to move this bill out of committee. If one of your legislators is on the committee, your reaching out to them is twice as important.

My testimony on the bill is below.

Autism Bill Testimony

Veto threats and political games

In November, I was elected by the people of my district to go to Augusta to represent them in the legislature while working with Governor LePage. But there’s been talk in the news, in coffee shops, and around town about the governor threatening to veto everything that comes to his desk – unless he gets his way and the hospitals get paid before we do anything else, that is.

The first time he said it, people kind of shrugged it off. But when he said it again yesterday, people started taking it much more seriously, and they grew extremely concerned. There is a lot of important work to be done, and everyone – from all partisan leanings – knows we can’t afford to have it all ruined over this issue.

I think that the more everyone argues, the less gets done. Governor LePage claims to want to stop playing the game of politics, but between this and Representative Fredette threatening to shut down the government, it’s hard to believe they’re interested in ending the games. They just want to change the rules.

It seems as if they are toying with the cynical idea that if they just play this game long enough, they will fool enough of us into becoming pessimistic about our government. Governor LePage and Representative Fredette seem to hope if they do well enough, people will stop paying attention to what is happening in Augusta simply out of frustration. Then with fewer people listening, they can govern as they please, rather than how we in the Legislature want to – in a spirit of honest cooperation.

They are relying on this cynicism and frustration. But I am not a cynic, and I don’t believe most of the people in the legislature are either. I think that people desperately want their government to work, and we elect our governor and the legislature with the expectation that the two will at least try to work together, and so I will keep trying to do that. My job as a Senator gets harder, though, when the governor says that he will veto even his own bills, or when Republican leadership threatens to shut down the government.

But this morning – like every morning – I’m doing exactly what I was elected to do: wake up bright and early, head over to Augusta, and get to work. While the Governor relaxes in his office and stamps “VETO” on everything, I’ll keep working seventy hours a week – participating in my committees, voting on legislation, and listening thoughtfully to everyone, even if we disagree – and then working on my other job after that. It’s why I campaigned to be in the Maine Senate and it’s why I’ll continue to fight for my district regardless of the politics involved.

Because while I may enjoy playing a good game, as everyone knows by now – I will never play games on people who need me.

Three Ways To Help

I’ve received hundreds of responses from people via e-mail, Facebook, and even a couple of voicemails. By and large, almost everything people had to say was supportive. A lot of people were asking questions about how they could help the campaign – so, here’s how to do that. Please share this page with your friends to spread the word.

1) If you know anyone in the municipalities of Albion, Benton, Clinton, Detroit, Pittsfield, Waterville, Winslow, and the unorganized township of Unity (which isn’t the same as the town of Unity next door!), please encourage them to support us. Obviously a vote in the district is the most important thing we can have.

2) Volunteer. Lots of people expressed a regret that they were not local enough to volunteer. However, nowadays campaigns use web-based software that allows you to make calls into the district from anywhere. If you can devote some time to making calls or knocking doors for the campaign, call Amy Cookson at (207) 370-4304.

3) Head to the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee and fill out their form saying you’d like our race to be one of their 2012 Essential Races. Certainly it seems that people think this is a race to watch, so tell those in Democratic Party leadership that you feel the same way. Our district is Maine Senate District 25.

(UPDATE: Great news on #3 — I have been chosen as a DLCC “Essential Race”! So I guess people don’t need to submit that form anymore!)

I am grateful for and humbled by all the kind words and support offered to me. Whether you can help the campaign or not, thank you for taking something which was very hurtful to me personally and turning it into something that makes me smile. The Internet will never cease to amaze me. I am going to try to respond personally to all the e-mails I have received, but this is not a large campaign, and I also have to, well, campaign!

Statement on Attacks

Here is a statement from our campaign in response to the personal attacks made on Colleen by the Maine Republican Party. If anyone has further questions, Ericka Dodge can be reached at 232-5892.

Ed Lachowicz

Campaign Manager, Colleen Lachowicz for State Senate

***

Waterville, ME—State Senate candidate Colleen Lachowicz released the following statement in response to an attack piece sent out by the Maine Republican Party.

 

Colleen Lachowicz says, “I think it’s weird that I’m being targeted for playing online games. Apparently I’m in good company since there are 183 million other Americans who also enjoy online games. What’s next? Will I be ostracized for playing Angry Birds or Words with Friends? If so, guilty as charged!”

 

Lachowicz added, “What’s really weird is that the Republicans are going after my hobbies instead of talking about their record while they’ve been running Augusta for the last two years. Instead of talking about what they’re doing for Maine people, they’re making fun of me for playing video games. Did you know that more people over the age of 50 play video games than under the age of 18? As a gamer, I’m in good company with folks like Jodie Foster, Vin Diesel, Mike Myers, and Robin Williams. Maybe it’s the Republican Party that is out of touch.”

 

 

According to the Entertainment Software Rating Board, here’s a break down and profile of a gamer in the United States:

  • 65% of U.S. households
  • 49% of 18 – 49 year olds
  • 26% over the age of 50
  • 25% under the age of 18
  • 2 out of 5 people are female
  • average age of a gamer is 34
  • $24.8 billion industry

 

According to the Christian Science Monitor, 183 million Americans play video games.


Tyranny

The decision by the Republican National Convention not to seat the Paul delegates hits home for me. Much like many other people who have placed their faith in the Republican Party of the past two or three decades, they have been betrayed. My father is a former Republican and agrees with me. I imagine my grandfather, a dyed-in-the-wool Republican who served as a judge, would also agree – but he is not around to ask.

Many people who consider themselves Republicans do so based on a rather simple belief system, one which I actually would like to agree with. They believe that if you just work hard and play by the rules, that you will succeed and become part of the middle class. That used to be true for the most part but it isn’t anymore. Even in their own convention, to their own delegates, when the results of Maine’s vote cannot change the outcome – they marginalized even their own activists. Playing by the rules doesn’t matter to them anymore. It seems like to win at their game now you need to cheat. Democracy no longer is the game we play, but plutocracy. Whoever has the money makes the rules.

They do so at their own peril. Given enough time, the average voter catches on, and from my time knocking on doors I would say they are beginning to figure out just what’s going on. And that includes the Republicans; they aren’t blind. People like Mitt Romney push tax policies that benefit the richest Americans and raise everyone else’s bills. They do so under the guise of “rugged individualism”, the belief that we don’t need anyone, we can just do it all ourselves. Mitt’s father George once referred to rugged individualism as “nothing but a political banner to cover up greed”. And he was right. George Romney understood something the Republican Party has since forgotten – the value of the social contract and of our communities. He understood how his employees made him wealthy, and so he took enough for himself and gave the rest to them.

George knew we needed to be in the game together, not all playing for ourselves. It’s no wonder that we spend all our time debating over whether low-income women deserve welfare checks or whether teachers make too much money. There are powerbrokers at the top, bipartisan powerbrokers, people with lots of money that have decided the best way to keep most of their money is to keep most of us divided. They force us to fight among ourselves for an ever-shrinking piece of the pie.

So they pit non-union workers against those in unions, public sector workers against private sector, those who favor marriage equality against those who do not. They pump billions of dollars into political advertising designed to make us do nothing but react against the people we see as our opponents and do everything we can to beat them. And then they extend tax cuts for the wealthy for another decade and snicker at the rest of us as we fight one another to survive.

I have more in common with most Republicans than I do with plutocrats. Admittedly, we disagree more than we agree. But we all want enough money to provide for our families and to live with dignity. I would say to Republicans, Democrats, and Independents alike – let’s pull back the curtain and see who’s there. I think it’s high time that we “common folk” – the disaffected middle class – shake the halls of power and place them back into our hands, not the hands of wealthy interests who only have their own interests at heart.

A quote from a great president, Progressive Republican Teddy Roosevelt: “Of all forms of tyranny the least attractive and the most vulgar is the tyranny of mere wealth, the tyranny of plutocracy.”

I would argue this country does need a change, but it isn’t based on red states or blue states. It’s whether or not the middle class will continue to endure the tyranny of the wealthy.

Help our community — save our soup kitchen.

I talk to a lot of people in my work. Many social problems, including those my clients experience, share a common thread: a lack of safety. A job that pays enough to live on, an apartment safe enough to dwell in, enough heat to survive the winter.

But above even those basic necessities is the need for food and fellowship. Sacred Heart Soup Kitchen provides both.  Our community needs to continue to provide food and fellowship because otherwise spirits soon will join bodies in starvation.

Last year, a friend of mine stepped up in Winthrop to help save their soup kitchen. Today, it is thriving and continues to serve the local community. Now more than ever, people are taking notice in his community that hunger is a problem that has no place in America and should be eradicated.

I agree wholeheartedly. One in five children in Maine goes to bed hungry every night. What I hope is that the recent reporting in the newspaper wakes everybody up. I didn’t need the soup kitchen, and it seemed to be doing okay, so I just donated some canned goods like many people do. Clearly they need our money, too.

I don’t have a lot of money. I need to be able to feed myself, but I’ll forego a little food to ensure that someone else can eat. I’m sending money to the Sacred Heart Soup Kitchen, at 70 Pleasant Street, Waterville, ME 04901. I hope others will too. If we cannot help the least among us then we’ve lost our way.

I’m MPA Endorsed!

I am proud to accept the endorsement of the Maine People’s Alliance, of which I am a member. I’d like to share a little about what MPA means to me, and why this endorsement is so important to my campaign.

During the first legislative session in 2011, a bill to deregulate the health insurance industry in Maine – LD 1333 – was introduced and passed. This bill was a giveaway to the insurance industry, one which they knew would raise rates on people, particularly in rural Maine. This included towns in my district, like Clinton and Detroit, where I have met people whose premiums have already doubled and become completely unaffordable – and they will keep going up. Some of those people now go uninsured because they cannot afford the premiums. I know one who will probably die because of that bill.

MPA was the canary in the coal mine about LD 1333 and they did everything they could to stop it. Their concerns have since proven accurate, as very sick people no longer have health insurance because they can’t afford it anymore. Maine People’s Alliance is the organization that is often sounding the alarm about policy changes before other organizations are willing to do anything. They are the ones who stand up first, and are the last to give up the fight. They are the most fearless organization in the state.

For a long time they have fought the same fight I say this entire campaign is about. It’s about having a government that recognizes that every individual deserves respect. That if they are willing to work, there is a job for them that pays enough to live on. That allowing each person to have that dignity is important to our society. That no one should go without food, shelter, or vital health care. That those who are the least among us are the very people we should be fighting for.

I joined this fight and ran for office because there are children in our local schools who have lost family members to entirely preventable causes. Maine People’s Alliance is in this fight because our local schools aren’t unique, this is happening everywhere. Together, we can recreate a government that works for us. One that protects those who need our help the most. In Maine, we are the government, and the question is whether we will stand up and build a government worth protecting, or whether we will let our sick neighbors fend for themselves.

I know I will join MPA in building such a government – not destroying it. Will you join us in that cause?

On poverty

Yesterday, the Bangor Daily News told us something we already expected: the percentage of people in poverty is still rising, now almost to levels we have not seen in fifty years. For some, this statistic is not a big deal. For me, it is extremely troubling.

People who followed my primary campaign may have seen a mailing from me: a black and white postcard. Those of a certain age – or with a background in public policy – would recognize what I meant to evoke with the image. I aimed for 1950s Appalachia, a place of simple, hardworking people who never had it easy. A photo series that captured the attention of a nation.

It was the beginning of the War on Poverty.

I was inspired to create the mailing because of what I’ve seen in this campaign and in my work. As I have traveled through the district, I have also gone down roads less traveled. Some are old private roads, with potholes two feet deep. These roads sometimes lead for over a mile into the woods, and come to abrupt, depressing ends.

I have seen more than one trailer in the woods with missing doors or windows. Lawns that haven’t been mowed because the lawnmower was broken and couldn’t be replaced. Young children running around in diapers or nothing at all because they have outgrown their clothing. And deep, deep hunger. Hunger in stomachs, in hearts, in souls.

We apply a number to poverty – make less than so much money, you’re in it. But poverty is this. Poverty is a powerful, ugly force that pushes people together into a slum in the city, or into a broken down trailer at the end of a road in the country. Once it gets them there, it traps them there. And then they face off against a government which would sooner keep them sealed up in those places, forgotten by everyone, than ever let them out again. It is one of the most destructive forces I know.

We then define two sides to the argument, and quite often, both of them are wrong. A Republican defines the problem as personal responsibility. If that person only worked harder, they would pull themselves out of poverty. But as a social worker, I recognize the scientific evidence: poverty can lead to mental health issues that can make it seem inescapable. And so it remains. We cannot hold someone personally responsible for chemical changes in their brain. But we also have to do something to address the problem.

The Democratic side of the argument is that of social responsibility. We have to make sure everyone has enough, no matter what. However, sometimes, that argument ends up being made by well-meaning people who have never experienced poverty themselves, and so the solution becomes one of throwing enough money at poverty to solve it. But those of us who do this work every day also recognize that money helps alleviate the symptoms, but it does not treat them. It’s not just about money.

The solution lies somewhere in between. That doesn’t make it a “moderate” or “independent” solution though, it just means it’s a solution that makes sense. The way to end, or at least significantly reduce poverty is for each person to believe that their country is fair enough to them that they can live a happy, productive life – and to have that actually be true. Unfortunately, that is not the case right now. Right now, we see inequality deeper than any we have seen since before the Great Depression. People need to believe that their individual efforts make a difference in their community, however they define that. If they don’t, then eventually, they’ll give up.

We all know someone who is suffering. They used to be a hard-working individual, or maybe they still are. But when they start to have to decide where their wages will go – whether it’s to rent, or food, or fuel – when the money they used to earn is no longer enough to take care of everything – then it all starts to fall apart. Then that hard worker begins to stumble. They miss a day of work, then two. Drink a little, and then more. Slowly but surely, they give in to their despair.

I have met so many people in similar situations. Their jobs gone, they begin to collect unemployment, or food stamps, or welfare. They don’t want to, but they do. They know that every choice they make in the store is criticized, because as soon as they pull out that blue card with “Maine” written on it, people decide that their tax dollars bought everything in that cart and so they get to have an opinion on what that person is eating. They live their days in shame for having fallen so far – and so they fall further.

The curtains become drawn. The door isn’t answered when people knock. The phone isn’t picked up. We have spent so long scapegoating the poor for our problems that they can’t help but feel the eyes on them when they go out, when they go to the store on the first of the month to get their groceries. The judgment is unbearable.

No wonder so many people are depressed.

I guess the time when I was raised was different. As a child, the expectation set upon me was to help others in any way I could. I took that responsibility very seriously, and so I went to Boston College to become a social worker. I have devoted my entire life to helping others, and as time has gone on, I have seen them struggle more and more even though they’re doing what is expected of them by society.

That’s why I’m doing this. That’s why I’m running. It is one of the most difficult things I have ever done. Every day, my routine is simple: wake up, get ready for work, go to work, drive home, knock on doors, come home. I barely see my husband, and I don’t often get to do anything fun.

But neither do many of the people I’m working to serve. They have it far worse than me. They need someone to fight for them because they’re too busy fighting to live. There, by the grace of God, go I. And so I, too, shall keep going.

Ed’s letter

I just wanted to write something quickly up here for those who may be making their way to this page after receiving Ed’s letter in the mail today. I just want to say that I feel as lucky as he does. And I’m also kind of embarrassed, because he’s right, I wish this campaign really wasn’t about me… but it also kind of has to be about me in a way in order to win, if that makes sense.

I apologize that there isn’t much here. Frankly, there are a lot of things we do well in this campaign, but the website isn’t one. Once in a while we have the time to publish something I’ve written and given a lot of thought to, but the reality is that campaigning is about knocking on doors and listening to real people tell very real stories.

It was suggested to us by several people with experience running campaigns that we probably shouldn’t write a letter. No one would read it, was the argument. Well, I knocked a lot of doors today, and the faith I had in everyone remains. Most everyone I met read that letter. Forget the flashy postcards, let’s just have a conversation. I’ll trust you to listen to me, just the same as you trust me to listen to you.

The work continues. Thank you to everyone who is supporting me and I’ll see you on the 12th.