Mother’s Day

For Mother’s Day, I will share a little about my family and my journey toward motherhood. It has not been an easy journey, but there is little of it that I would change.

This is a picture of me, my stepson Rowan, and his mother Brigid.

Rowan is over three years old now. I consider myself extremely blessed to have the family that I do. Brigid and I consider one another friends, which is not something that often happens in mother-stepmother relations.  Brigid, my husband Ed, and I all agree that Rowan is lucky to have three parents instead of two.

What happened in the past that got us into a three-parent situation doesn’t really matter.  What matters is that we are all on the same page now – we have respect for one another and all care about what Rowan’s future holds for him. And we will all do what’s best for him. That doesn’t mean we’ll always agree, but he will always know that all three of us love him dearly, that we all care what happens to the other, and he will never know the pain that many children do when families break apart.

***

A few weeks ago, my friend became extremely ill and needed to spend some time in the hospital. She called me up because she didn’t have anyone else to watch her children. Despite the campaign, and that it would take me off the task of knocking doors, I agreed to take them in without hesitation. Ed and I figured the rest out later.

Meet Callie and Courtney. Courtney’s the one we’re looking at like she’s in trouble. (She probably was.)

Ed and I had the girls at our apartment for about a week. The experience was wonderful – it felt wonderful to be full-time parents for a little while.

***

It also reminded us of what we’ve given up to take part in this primary.

Last year, we became licensed foster care parents, with the intent of adopting a little girl in DHHS custody. Ed and I both know that any child that comes to us from state custody is going to be suffering from trauma and loss, and she would need us to be very hands on with her. When we started this run, no one else was interested in running against an incumbent, so we jumped in.

We spent evenings planning a campaign while also poring over adoption websites, looking at photos and biographies of children, and sending out lots of paperwork to lots of workers in different states. We started seeing some results, and began getting excited. We were in line to adopt a little girl from Nebraska. Finally, it was happening: I was going to be a mother.

But then a new supporter of ours, feeling positive after her own electoral successes, decided to run for the seat herself. The primary was on. It was clear to everyone involved that a primary would drain too much of our time, and so another adoptive family had that little girl placed with them instead. We stopped looking at the websites, and we told the other workers that our available time had evaporated.

I spent a little while digging through the different emotions that I felt. I won’t lie and say I wasn’t feeling hurt. I considered dropping out of the race to continue on the path toward adoption. In the end, I decided to stay in the race despite the primary.

I stayed in mostly because of what I’ve seen happening to other parents during the past few years. My father told me today that he has never seen so many young families at the Waterville food bank he volunteers at as he has this past week. The Republicans have been dismantling program after program – TANF, MaineCare, unemployment insurance, worker’s compensation. Now they’re going after Head Start.

I stayed in because my problems are so completely and utterly insignificant when compared to the idea of losing access to food and shelter. There are so many kids in our foster care system now that it is filled to bursting, and now we will have no choice but to take more kids from their parents. Not because they’ve done anything wrong, but because Republicans in Augusta have taken the food out of their mouths and the roofs from over their heads.

I stayed in because I don’t want that mother’s child. I don’t want a child who was taken from their mother because our elected officials took away her ability to afford a place to live. Saving a child from a lifetime of abuse is important. But adopting a little girl whose mother never did anything but love her, care for her, and try to do everything she could for her – that feels a lot like stealing. And it makes me feel sick.

Running for office has been one of the most difficult experiences of my life. I’m continuing to push through and do everything I can to win because I know these parents personally. They’re scared. They need help. And we need to help them. That is why I am still here, and why I hope that I’ll be the last one standing in June and November. These parents need an advocate, someone to stand up for them and tell people in power, “No.

My journey to motherhood waits so their journey as parents can continue.

On marriage equality.

This didn’t appear on my “issues” page, and a supporter asked me to elaborate on my position. It is a tough story to tell, because it is personal. Finally, when the EqualityMaine questionnaire came in, I had to force myself to take the time to sit down and think through what I wanted to say. So, here is my story, about my own family.

***

My uncle Frank and his partner Jack have been together for over 35 years. Frank hid his sexual orientation from everyone in our family until my both my grandparents had died. When my grandmother died in 1987 and we were cleaning out her apartment, he brought Jack to help, and we met him for the first time.

Uncle Frank was nervous – he worried what we would all think. My sister and I got stuck in an elevator with Jack and a large bureau that day. We weren’t there for very long, but we joked around and discovered a man who loved my uncle deeply. Love does not discriminate, and neither did we. So for the part of my parents, my sister, and I, we accepted both of them without a second thought.

Through the years, to us, Uncle Frank and Jack were just like any other couple in my family. They came to holiday gatherings, weddings and vacation get-togethers. But there were roadblocks for them that straight couples did not have to worry about. When my cousin was getting married, my aunt was mad at Jack for some reason – and so his invitation was conveniently “forgotten”, something that would never have happened were he straight.

Little things like this would happen from time to time between my uncle and this aunt. It never sat right with me. To me, Jack was a part of our family. He made my uncle Frank happy. Frank always seemed like a better person with Jack around – he wanted to socialize more, and make friends, like Jack did. And he smiled a lot more. He never did those things before he introduced us to Jack, he was so reserved. Jack could get to know everyone in a bar in five minutes, and so he brought Frank out of his shell. “Coming out” is so much more than stating your sexual orientation in public. How can you really be yourself if you’re forced to hide such a significant piece of who you are?

They live in New York State, and so as of last year, they could legally marry. But victory for marriage equality came too late for them. Jack is now in the late stages of Alzheimer’s disease. He is not considered legally competent anymore, and cannot enter into legal contracts, including marriages.

That once vibrant man who made my uncle smile and made friends wherever he went is not there anymore. He doesn’t remember us. And now my uncle has to worry about how to care for Jack and what to do if he dies first. What happens to Jack if my aunt or some other family member decides that the house or some valuables in it are something they want? This has been my uncle’s and Jack’s home for decades, and Jack could lose it in some extended fight in a court of probate. It isn’t like he would be able to mount a good legal defense in his present condition.

My uncle wants to make sure that Jack stays in his home as long as he can and so provides as much in-home care as he can by himself. They just recently took their last vacation together – a trip to Istanbul and a few other sites in Turkey. I loved talking to my uncle about their trip, but could hear in his voice that he already misses Jack – the Jack he has shared his life with.

***

I have never been okay with the rights of those two very wonderful people being debated. I wish we didn’t have to have a vote on someone’s civil rights… that they were just there. But here we are. In honor of those two people I love so dearly, who will never be able to have the right of marriage that I share with my husband, I will vote YES on what I assume will be Question One, and I will challenge anyone who thinks we should do otherwise.

Sometimes the solutions are simple

A good friend of mine told me I need to tell my stories as I talk to people in this campaign. So I thought I would share this story.

A few years ago, I was working in a local elementary school providing mental health services. I had a client, an eight-year-old boy who was born to a mother with many challenges. They lived in extreme poverty and were often unable to afford to buy food. It was lunchtime on a cold winter day when I got a call to come down to his classroom. When I got there, he was upset – so upset that he was screaming and throwing things. He wouldn’t listen to his teacher. Meanwhile, the rest of his class had gone outside for recess.

I found him crying and yelling and not making any sense. He couldn’t get the words out to tell anyone what was wrong due to his sobbing and anger. I got him out of the classroom, intending to bring him to my office. Instead, he flopped down against the wall in the hallway. We sat next to each other with our backs against the wall. I helped calm him down, and waited for him to be able to tell me what was wrong.

After some time, he was able to tell me – but he was still very emotional, and his story came out between his sobs. His class was headed out for recess, and his favorite part of the day was going outside to jump on a flying saucer and slide down the hill in the snow. When he went to get dressed to go out, he discovered that his snow pants were missing. One of the rules of the school says that for a child to go out in the snow, they have to be wearing snow pants.

Snow pants seem like a simple thing – why should a child lose control over missing recess for one day? But there was more to it than that. This little boy knew the reality of his financial situation at home, that his family was poor. He knew that no new snow pants would be coming, there was no money to replace them. He knew that he would be stuck inside for the rest of the winter while everyone else got to go play. When he told his mother and her boyfriend, they would become extremely angry with him, and would probably physically abuse him.

As part of my job, it’s my responsibility to teach children how to recognize and manage their emotions. But even if he calmed down and accepted the loss of the snow pants, he would still be alone – the child in poverty who was now different from everyone else, unable to have fun at recess. The problem isn’t the little boy, it’s the snow pants. So I talked to the staff at the school. They asked what to do.

I said, “Buy him some snow pants.”

They asked, “That’s it?”

I nodded. “That’s it. Get him some snow pants and the problem’s solved.”

So they did. And the next day, he went outside and joined his friends on the hill in his new snow pants – and there were no more significant problems with his behavior.

Sometimes the solutions are simple – they’re right in front of our noses. Sometimes a small change can make a huge difference in someone’s life. Things can be like this in the Legislature, too. People working together to make the smallest of changes can have a huge impact on people’s lives. It’s our responsibility to make sure that we make the right changes – that we extend a hand to help, not to harm. We must never punish people for the simple problem of being poor. This little boy is not just his mother’s responsibility – he is the responsibility of all of us. Together, we can help him, and others like him.

***

And with that, a thought. Imagine if we acted sooner to help a single mother. Imagine if she was working a job, making ends meet, but living paycheck to paycheck like so many of us do. Her car breaks down. The next thing she knows, she’s missed a few days of work, gets fired, and now she’s collecting benefits. It isn’t enough to survive on, so the car never gets fixed — she’s stuck. This happens all the time, it isn’t a rare thing.

What if, instead of waiting for that, we had a grant system available to fix the car? Sure, it may cost $500-$1,000 to do it, but it would keep her working for the cost of a couple months of benefits. This is a fiscally responsible solution that keeps her off the TANF rolls while allowing her to maintain her dignity. Most everyone wants to work; it makes people feel good about themselves to contribute their share.

This is the sort of thing we need to do — address the molehills before they become mountains.

Response to State of the State Address

A couple days late, admittedly — but running for the State Senate while working full-time is hard work. Thankfully, weekends allow a little time to write!

First: a link to the State of the State address. The Governor did add and subtract a few things, he is often unscripted. If you missed it, this will allow you to see most of what I’m referring to.

Governor LePage surprised me with his tone, in that he was more conciliatory than he has been in the past. This is a good thing. For the moment, the Governor and the Republicans in the Legislature are willing to work with the Democrats on the budget proposals. I recognize the reality that the Democrats need to work with the GOP right now, as they can easily pass anything they’d like without consulting us. Unfortunately, the Democrats last session helped put us in the position of having to work within that budget — which included a tax cut of $200 million that primarily benefits the richest Mainers. The budget in 2011 required a two-thirds majority vote, and could not have passed without the help of Democratic lawmakers.

The tax cut

The Governor is very proud of his tax cut, and there is no significant discussion in the Legislature to repeal it. This action alone would put the budget almost completely back into balance, and would require us to find approximately $20 million in savings — something which is very doable by tinkering around the margins. Benefit cuts of $20 million, even if designed to largely affect low-income Mainers, could at least be touted as shared sacrifice — the rich giving up their tax cut, those receiving help receiving a little less. I support repeal of the tax cut, as does a coalition of organizations which includes my profession’s organization, the National Association of Social Workers. If you share my belief that we should be repealing this giveaway to the wealthy instead of stripping low-income people of their health insurance, you can sign their petition and tell your story here.

Part of the tax cut, of course, affects those who make over $20,000. Once you make that much, the rest of your income is taxed at the highest bracket. We are not in an economic position to do so now, but I would be happy to join forces with Republican lawmakers to reduce the tax burden of people making that level of income, by adding a higher bracket for incomes of over $100,000. Those who make more can afford to pay more. According to Maine Revenue Services, someone making $20,000 a year will see a tax cut of $17 under this new plan. Those in the top 1% will see an average of $2,800 in savings. The top 1% does not need that extra money, but I know someone making $20,000 sure could use more than $17.

Our tax burden

The Governor is right: our tax burden is higher than most states. But he never gets into why. He discusses how people in New Hampshire and Massachusetts make more money than us, and that their tax burdens are lower. But he doesn’t take into account what it costs to live in those states, either. Their statewide income is driven up by the wages received by people in Boston, where renting an apartment that will cost you $500 here will cost you $1,500 there. Their tax burden is also driven down by simple geography: more people in less space. For instance, we have to pay to pave miles of highways that connect Aroostook County and other northern points to the rest of the state. This costs a lot of money, but there are not a lot of people living near those highways to share the responsibility of paving them, so we do it for them. Our tax burden will always be higher than our neighbors for these kinds of reasons. However, we can make changes that more fairly allocate that burden.

Welfare “reform”

Governor LePage touted his reform of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, that he believes now has a five-year lifetime limit that previously didn’t exist. In fact, that limit has existed nationwide since 1996, with the passage of bipartisan welfare reform under President Clinton and a Republican Congress. That law did allow for each state to exempt a small portion of their caseloads from the limit, which is what is no longer possible. Maine targeted single women with substance abuse histories for this extra funding and was often successful in assisting these women in ending their dependence on substances and helping them provide for their children. No longer. With prescription drug abuse on the rise, we have opted to spend less on preventing it. This is unacceptable.

Charter schools

The Governor supports Sen. Mason’s charter school bill, which allows for the opening of up to ten charter schools in the state over the next several years. While not extremely damaging on this small scale, it opens the door to more damaging proposals in the future. The idea of charter schools acting as competitors for other public schools is fiscally irresponsible. Schools are operated primarily with two pieces of funding: one from the state, the other from local property tax revenue. If a second school is opened that is in direct competition with the first, overhead becomes an added cost that will become unmanageable. Think of this in terms of your own home. If you suddenly needed to pay for two living spaces, and utilities for them both, your costs will obviously go up. This is what will happen with two competing school buildings. This doesn’t even take into account everything else — teachers, administration, supplies. Everything is doubled up. This isn’t responsible. Although there have certainly been some successful charter schools, nationally the reviews are mixed at best. On the other hand, there is abundant evidence that investment in early childhood education, such as the Educare Center in Waterville, pays dividends in the long run.

If the Legislature wanted to open new schools, they should have opted for legislation that opened more specialized schools such as the Maine School for Science and Mathematics or the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences. These schools are specifically designed to provide an alternative education, rather than just duplicating effort. I would have supported this kind of charter school legislation. Teachers unions are naturally concerned about charter schools being non-union, and I share that concern, but would urge them to work hard to organize those new schools and would support that effort. Teachers in unions are paid a respectable salary, one which allows them to focus on teaching instead of how to feed their families. Their union advocates for professional development opportunities and smaller class sizes to improve the education of our children, among other things.

Energy

A coalition of sustainability organizations are pushing for a citizen’s initiative to require us to get a higher percentage of our energy from renewable sources, and unlike the Governor, I support this 100%. We are responsible for the change in the climate, and we must do what we can to mitigate the damage. Renewable energy is one significant way for us to go about doing this. The governor states that we have higher energy costs than other states, and he is right — but he doesn’t take into account that those other states have access to cheap fossil fuels within their own borders, such as coal and natural gas. We have to produce our own energy differently, and if we don’t want to pay extra to import it, then we need more renewable energy.

The Governor has also been attacking Efficiency Maine of late, the organization that is responsible for initiatives that reduce our energy use. Maine has the oldest housing stock in the nation, which means it’s extremely inefficient in its energy use. Efficiency Maine is one program that has been weatherizing homes and providing other cost-saving methods. The cheapest source of energy is the source you don’t use. Every time a home is weatherized, that’s less oil needed to heat it. Our efforts should be directed toward this task so we do not need to plead with the federal government every year for more money for heating assistance. It’s clear that money is drying up, so we have to fend for ourselves.

Credit where it’s due

The Governor did say one thing I very strongly agree with, and that is that we need to reduce domestic violence in this state and change laws to be more effective. Too often a perpetrator is back out on the street the next day, placing their partner at risk once again. Many incidents go unreported because the victims see that reality: report it and they’re at risk for greater harm. If the Legislature can work with the Governor to reduce domestic violence, then chances are I’m supportive. I give the Governor credit for being willing to stand up for victims of domestic violence. However, it is not enough to do better after an incident has occurred. We must also work to do a better job of preventing domestic violence in the first place. This is neither a women’s issue, nor a men’s issue – but a human issue.

That’s it for this post — please feel free to contact me with questions.

My introductory letter

Unfortunately we lacked the funding to get these out to every single person in the district, and they are still being distributed by our volunteers as I write this. I’m posting this here so everyone who didn’t yet receive one can have a chance to read it.

***

Dear Friend,

Thank you for taking the time to read something dropped at your door. My name is Colleen Lachowicz and I am a Democrat running for State Senate in District 25.

Some of you already know me, and others will have an opportunity to get to know me during this campaign. My parents, my sister, my husband, and I all live in Waterville. I am a step-mom to my husband’s son Rowan, and we are licensed foster parents. We are planning to adopt a child. I’ve worked at Kennebec Behavioral Health since 1997 and have been the Program Director of School-Based Services there for six years. As part of my job, I’ve worked in our local schools for over ten years.

However children come into our lives, whether through birth, adoption, marriage, or in our work, the best thing we can do is to help all children lead happy and healthy lives. At work I manage a budget and staff whose responsibility is to help children and families in Kennebec and Somerset counties. I chose this type of work specifically because helping others is the value I hold closest to my heart. Helping others is who I am, not just what I do for a living. It doesn’t stop at the end of my workday.

For years it has been a struggle to improve the quality of life for our children in this line of work. Every day I see families struggling, forced to choose between paying the rent or buying fuel or groceries. A choice like this is no choice at all. Too many people are underemployed, sometimes working two jobs and still having trouble making ends meet. Too many are unemployed and have given up hope of finding work at all. Too many children are suffering as a result.

Teachers are spending their own hard-earned money on basic supplies for their students. School administrators struggle to balance their budgets while the state’s promised share is inadequate. My own parents struggle to afford necessary medications. Families struggle to pay for health insurance while paying ever larger co-pays and deductibles. I’m tired of watching people die of entirely preventable causes. I know we are better than this. I know we want better than this for our children, our parents, our families, our neighbors, ourselves.

Last summer while driving home with my husband, we were talking about these problems. He reminded me that the best thing to do with problems is to act to solve them. Someone who understands these problems has to act, someone who works with these issues every day. It has to be someone who knows how to address the root causes of our problems, rather than just the symptoms. That’s me. It’s what I get up every morning and do. It’s who I am. Now I want to take that ability to Augusta to represent you, to be your voice. You deserve a state senator who knows how to listen and who knows how to solve the problems facing us today.

That’s why I’m running for State Senate. Because Governor LePage was right about one thing: The issues are too big to ignore.

The big issue is jobs. We have lost jobs in our state in the past year. We have untapped opportunities here – roads to repair, bridges to rebuild. We can create a new green energy economy and build much more here instead of importing parts from other countries. We have skilled laborers sitting idle who would be thrilled to work again. Our young people desperately need jobs so they can start building their lives.

The bigger issue is inequality in our fiscal policy. Taxpayers are asked to choose between policies that support working-class people or policies that support the wealthy and powerful. Last year, we gave a $200 million tax cut primarily to the richest Mainers, while many families are falling out of the middle class. If we want to create jobs and stimulate the economy, we have to put money into the hands of people who actually need it. If people can afford to buy products and services then more small businesses will grow and thrive. That’s how we actually create jobs. Small businesses are the engine that drives our economy.

The biggest resource is our people. We cannot continue to blame the unemployed for our problems. They are not scapegoats. They’re our neighbors, our families, our friends. More than anything, they’re tired of struggling to get through another day. We need to work hard to create a sustainable economy that gives every Mainer the chance to earn a living.

If you’re tired of watching hard-working people work harder for less, then please join me to make a difference. Vote Colleen Lachowicz for State Senate in the Democratic Primary on June 12th, and let’s work together for a new day.

My volunteers and I will be reaching out across the district over the next several months, and I hope one of us has the chance to meet you. But please, don’t wait for that to happen. If you want to talk, want me to stop by, or want to help with my campaign, please call me at 692-7143, or e-mail me at colleenforsenate@gmail.com. I want to hear the concerns and ideas of every voter.

Thank you, and I look forward to hearing from you.

 

Colleen