As a first-time political candidate, I have embarked on an experience that has taught me more than I ever dreamed about our political system and about the people who live in my district. The best part has been listening to people as I have gone from door to door, learning what they would like to see from our government. I have become dedicated to help however I can.
Many of the oldest residents in District 137 have health and financial challenges and tell me that they are not well served by this state. Everyone said they wanted to stay in their homes for as long as possible. Some have families that can help, others do not. I was so moved by one woman who came to the door dragging an oxygen tank. With tears in her eyes, she said she just wanted and needed to keep her independence for as long as she could. These seniors are here and need help now. We have to make it a priority to fund programs that will help.
I also have listened to many people talk about difficulties accessing adequate medical care or even finding adequate health insurance. I have heard sad stories about $800 per month insurance bills that left a couple with less than $400 per month to pay for rent, food and all other costs. One single woman told me she makes $1 per month too much to qualify for a better program. A young family struggles with serious illnesses that sometimes allow them to work while other times they cannot. They would have been eligible for the Medicaid benefits that Gov. Paul LePage has refused to accept. They are heartbroken. We must help the 70,000 Mainers denied access to Medicaid.
The effects of all the mill closures, once just news articles to me, have become all too real as I travel in my district. People who earned a decent living working hard in our mills are struggling now to hold on to their houses and pay their bills. Other people, such as loggers and store owners, suffer from the closings, too. For them and our young people who want reasonably prosperous lives in Maine, we must keep working on new and innovative employment solutions.
Story continues below advertisement.
Traveling through my district, it is painfully obvious that there are huge differences in the incomes of our residents. We have beautiful homes and well-kept neighborhoods, but we also have many houses that are barely standing. Most of the people in these crumbling homes asked only for better paying jobs. It is time to raise the minimum wage in a way that doesn’t bankrupt our small businesses but still gives people a living wage.
Many people that I have met have talked about how much they worry about substance abuse. One woman said her son had struggled with drug abuse but has become sober, which she credits to family support and honesty. She felt that his counselors could have listened better to the family to be effective. Often people talked about locking their doors and being afraid in ways they never have been before. One couple told me that their daughter had died two months ago from a drug overdose. It will take open minds really listening to each other and working together to make progress with this huge problem. Families, treatment providers, law enforcement and people in recovery all have answers. I believe that we must stop posturing and blaming each other and work together to make real progress.
“You seem like a nice person, why in the world do you want to join the Legislature?” is a comment I often hear. I have really had to think about the honest answer. It comes down to one basic belief of mine, from a quote by Gandhi, that “we must be the change we want to see in the world.” I don’t like the coarse, crude, name-calling and pointless insults that can be heard on every level in our state and country. It serves no real purpose other than to make the speaker feel smug and to stop a real exchange of ideas. It hurts us all.
If elected, I will work with members of all parties and listen to people of all viewpoints. That is the way — and the only way — we can tackle the problems in our district, state and country.
Laurie Fogelman is the Democratic candidate for Maine House District 137. She lives in Franklin.