District 101: Cebra and Simpson

The battle for House District 101 is being waged by incumbent, Republican Rich Cebra of Naples, and political newcomer, Democrat Mackenzie Simpson of Casco.

Candidate responses are arranged alphabetically.

Q. Why did you decide to run for office and what strengths would you bring to the position?

Rich Cebra

Cebra: As a parent and small business owner, my first run for office in 2004 was born out of several aggravating interactions with state government, and a desire to bring the principles of limited, more efficient government, lower taxes and getting the government out of business way so those businesses could create jobs.

Owning a local business, being involved in local government (both the Naples Town Budget Committee and the Naples Comprehensive Planning Committee), having a well-grounded moral compass and having more than 20 years of employment history as well as being involved in several community-related organizations prepared me for office in a way that is needed to effectively listen to and represent the people. I have done exactly what I said I would do, bringing honor and dignity to the position. I have focused on bringing responsible, better run government to the people while protecting and defending all of our Constitutional rights. My opponent would try and tell you I’m focused on the wrong things, but protecting and defending the U.S. Constitution and the Maine Constitution, the rule of law and individual liberties are not the wrong thing, they are what legislators who are more interested in all the people that they serve, than the party they are members of, would do. Adults can walk and chew gum at the same time. So when you hear criticism from my opponent about my voter ID bill, rest assured that I haven’t let tax reform, insurance reform, welfare reform and job creating economic development fall through the cracks.

Simpson: I am running because I was born and raised in this area and deeply care about it. The people of Casco, Naples and Poland deserve a candidate who truly cares about our communities and everyone in it, not just special interests, partisan politics, and political rhetoric.

Our area needs someone who is willing to stand up and fight for us. We need someone who understands the importance that Lake Region and Poland schools play in our local economy and in the future of our young people’s lives. We need an effective legislator who is able to work with many different points of view and actually pass legislation to benefit our communities. We simply cannot afford two more years of a representative who does not represent all of us and blames the other party for not solving the important challenges that we currently face.

I am a proven leader with a winning attitude. I encourage participation and always keep an open mind. I will be a representative that studies all sides of an issue and hears all perspectives in order to make well thought out, beneficial decisions for our communities. I work for organizations, which share my values of pursuing excellence. I will approach my job as a citizen legislator with the same winning, pursuit of excellence attitude. I am a hard and determined worker. I will work for and with everyone in Casco, Naples and part of Poland.

Q. How do you feel about the emotional climate (primarily discontent) that presently exists amongst the populace toward politics, and how would you make a difference?

Cebra: I believe the public is angry and rightly so. Washington has been out of touch with the people for a long time and Maine State government has been over promising and under delivering to the people of Maine for a generation. The fact is, Augusta lobbyists and the Majority Party have controlled Augusta for over three decades and I’ve been fighting against that for the last six years in the legislature. People are realizing that they have been lied to about the ability of government to be all things to all people. It cannot and never could be. The fact that big government politicians and lobbyists manipulate the system is becoming more evident to more people every time people in power blatantly lie to the public.

A good example of this is the yo-yo coverage in the media, hand in hand with the current administration, of the state budget crisis. In April, the media reports we’re tens of millions of dollars short and then out of thin air when election season rolls around the media reports that the state has a surplus. The surplus is a complete misrepresentation to the public. (How could we possibly have a surplus when we still owe the hospitals almost $400 million?) That kind of dishonesty is one of the biggest reasons for the people’s discontent. That is also when a person involved with politics true character comes out, when they see something wrong, will they sit back and say nothing or will they be honest with the public.

The first thing someone in office has to be is honest with the public. I have worked at building that trust with the people for the last six years. I may have written things in the paper that are difficult to hear and that people don’t want to hear, but they were always well researched and the truth. They were always in the interest creating a discussion and of giving the public a different perspective than they would get from the institutional media. The best thing that can happen in a republic is the free and open exchange of ideas and opinions in the belief that as American citizens we have the right to hear and to be heard.

If a candidate can’t be honest in their campaign then how could you trust them in office? Please read any and all of my campaign literature. I will stand by every word in them. I will never pretend to be something I am not. I say to the public, this is who I am, tell me what you think about this issue, here is how I see it, let’s talk about it. It’s why I’ve written over 60 articles in The Bridgton News over the years to inform; mail surveyed the district three separate times on key issues before the legislature to listen; did a series of listening tours with Representatives Ralph Sarty and Rick Sykes; did a LRTV show with Reps. Sarty and Sykes; and have set up an office in my home for legislative work. The government that is closest to the people is the best government.

I have helped hundreds of people in the Lakes Region on all sorts of issues they are having with the state, from heating assistance, veterans looking for help, helping a senior renew her drivers license, state highway road drainage issues and any number of other topics. I have always tried to help everyone, who has ever called me, the very best way I can. I think that has helped to start to restore faith in government, one person at a time.

Simpson: I am disappointed with the negativity, anger, and distrust that exists toward the government. I believe that during tough times, a person’s true colors are shown, which is another reason why I decided to step forward as our district’s voice in Augusta. From my athletic, educational and personal experience, I have learned that nothing positive can be accomplished with anger and negativity. Calling the government “lousy” and attacking the people trying to bring us out of troubled times are not helpful in any shape or form.

If I am honored with being elected on Nov. 2, I will work to create a positive political climate and instill citizens’ trust back into state government. This can be accomplished by bringing people together, not dividing them; encouraging participation and keeping everyone informed about the issues that affect them.

Q. What do you feel are the three major issues facing the state at this time, and what would you do, if elected, to address these areas?

Cebra: I agree with a recent independent report that recently came out called, “Envision Maine.” In it, the authors highlight what they called the three “great ticking time bombs.” Those are an aging population, the billions of dollars owed to the public pension plan, and the rising cost of health care. We can begin addressing these things only if we have a majority of legislators who really want to change them.

The state has an aging population because state regulations and tax policy have driven business away, without enough good business here, young people leave, I have sponsored or co-sponsored and supported bills to change that business climate and will continue that fight. We have to change the tax structure so people want to come here and invest and make Maine open for business again.

The billions owed to the pension system are going to take another complete turn around in policy direction. How we got here should be considered criminal neglect, many factors got us into this mess but the biggest contributor to the problem has been a lack of discipline in state government. We have to first stop the bleeding, change the system for new hires, and begin to address the huge unfunded liability to protect the system for the current pensioners and those who have spent their life working for the state.

There are proven fixes to our healthcare costs crisis, but the majority in the legislature doesn’t want to go along with them, these fixes have worked in dozens of other states. I’ve supported these fixes and will continue to support these proven fixes. One thing we do need to do is stop throwing money down a hole in Dirigo Health. Abandoning and replacing Dirigo Health is long overdue.

Mackenzie Simpson

Simpson: A.) Job Creation. I would provide more incentives to keep young Maine graduates, like myself, in Maine. One way to do this would be to expand Opportunity Maine Program. Also, making internships and externships mandatory while in high school could be beneficial to students and employers. We must streamline the process of granting development projects by increasing the predictably of outcomes and improving timeliness. Additionally, I will work to lower small business taxes and employment requirements so that small business can retain more of their profits in order to expand.

B.) The State Budget. The 1 billion projected budget shortfall is just that, a projection. Every analyst and advisor to both the governor and the legislature has warned that without federal stimulus money, and if sales and income tax revenues continue to decline, the state will not be able to maintain its current levels of funding.

As a legislator I will make reductions in spending and seek consolidation of services to achieve a balanced budget, not raise taxes. I will actively participate in the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee process as soon as I take office by analyzing the current funding levels for programs and departments and deciding if the funding is appropriate. The recession in Maine was not caused by “outrageous state spending” like some groups would like voters to believe. In fact the state budget has been reduced from $6.3 billion to $5.5 billion, which is the same level as in 2005.  I will make sure that the programs doing the most help to citizens during these tough times continue and those that can be trimmed will be.

For example, there could be large savings by merging Maine’s public assistance programs under one roof at either the county or regional level. Why should a low income elderly citizen or a single pregnant mother have to go to their town for General Assistance, their CAP agency for fuel and weatherization, the DHHS for food stamps, TANF, Aspire, Medicaid programs, the Maine Revenue Services for property tax and rent relief, and Maine State Housing for mortgage or rental assistance? The current process has many duplicative applications and is redundant, especially in rural areas. One department should be able determine a person’s eligibility and also deliver the appropriate services.

Most importantly, I would not sign a “no tax pledge” (American Tax Reform No Tax Pledge) and then break it like our current state representative has done. As a responsible legislator, I will support tax reform that reduces Maine’s overall tax burden.

C.) Improving Education and Reducing Health care costs. As a legislator, I will do everything I can to support and protect school funding. A merit pay system may be something to look into, but should not be thought of as the “quick fix” to improving teacher performance and the overall educational system. I will actively participate in the Joint Select Committee on Health Care Reform Implementation and Opportunities. I strongly support incentives for preventative health care clinics.  Investing in preventative measures will reduce the number and cost of future treatments and decrease the amount of extremely costly emergency room care.

Q. Is the proposed casino a good idea or bad idea for Maine?

Cebra: The debate is over if we should or should not have gambling in the State of Maine, we have it. I look at the racino/casino issue this way. Currently, Governor John Baldacci has built a political wall around the racino in his hometown of Bangor and has used political pressure to protect that. If they are allowed to have one in Bangor then the local people should be able to decide where other facilities are located. All too often the state picks winners and losers in economic development when it has no business of doing that and gambling is no exception. The economy in Oxford is in bad shape and the unemployment there is very high. While casino jobs are not the ultimate in economic development, those jobs are a lot better than no jobs at all. The same goes for the Penobscots and their Indian Island facility.

Simpson: I don’t believe anyone truly knows whether it will be a good or bad thing for Maine. The best thing anyone can do is accurately predict the benefits or costs. However, I do believe that the opportunity to create just one job in times of a severe recession cannot be lost. Additionally, we currently allow gambling at our fairs, horse racing, Hollywood Slots, scratch tickets, and the Maine State Lottery. Also, if properly managed and overseen, the casino could be a positive tourist destination with beneficial spillover effects to other tourist businesses in Casco, Naples and the part of Poland.

If passed, as a supporter of the referendum, I will be in a better position to amend it. The sponsors of the referendum have already agreed that the bill can and should be amended in some areas. My only hesitation is the accuracy of the revenue predictions for the state, speculative benefits to the area, and Oxford’s ability to absorb a large-scale casino in a rurally landscaped community as opposed to revitalization of a more urban downtown area.

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