House Dist. 99: Sarty and Steed

Incumbent State Rep. Ralph Sarty of Denmark is being challenged by a young newcomer to politics, Alexander Steed of Cornish, for State House Dist. 99, which covers the towns of Denmark, Sebago, Baldwin, Cornish and Limington.

Ralph Sarty

Sarty: I am running for my third term in the State Legislature. In both previous Legislative sessions I have sponsored, co-sponsored, or supported legislation which addressed issues such as (1.) Welfare Reform — Cosponsored a “Five Point Welfare Reform Bill,” which would finally bring some “Common Sense” oversight to our state’s out of control and extremely mismanaged welfare system. (2.) I strongly supported Health Care Insurance Reform for Maine people — the most important component of this bill was to finally open up the state of Maine to all qualified health care insurance providers and not just the few currently approved by Maine’s outdated insurance regulations. (3.) I did cosponsor expanding Maine’s “Pine Tree Zoning Program” to include the entire state and not just selected areas (this is a program designed to assist in the development of economic growth through incentive programs to existing and new business interests). This bill did pass but much more work must be done to inspire economic growth and jobs in Maine. (4.) Our state budget is a shambles. I would like to continue to offer my support for a much more responsible, affordable and sustainable state budget — one that Maine people can afford now and for the long term (5.) Stabilize the funding of public education. This category represents the single largest expenditure of state revenues in the budget, and I believe the time is long overdue where the best and most productive use of these revenues is needed. Public education is vital to our state’s future. Properly funding it for the best results possible is crucial and in my view requires a new and more effective approach. (6.) Highways and bridges — there is no doubt in my mind that the future costs of our state’s highway system as well as responsible bridge repair and replacement will become a hugely significant cost to our state, second only to education. We have neglected this problem for too long and must deal with it before it becomes a crisis that is unmanageable. These issues and many more are the reasons I am seeking another term in the State Legislature. We MUST rethink and prioritize state spending and we must do it sooner than later.

Steed: We need to incorporate experienced, fresh, youthful perspectives into our government if we realistically hope to create jobs and keep young people and tax revenue in the state. With my experience and perspective, I bring these characteristics and abilities to the table.

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?

Sarty: This is a tough time to be serving in an elected political office. People are generally angry, disillusioned, and in some cases actually fearful of their own government and the direction they perceive the country and the state are going. The most serious recession since the days of the so-called “Great Depression” has clearly shown the weaknesses in government at all levels, and many feel their elected officials are not dealing with these serious issues in a way that is in the best interests of the people. I would agree with that assumption and I firmly believe it is the responsibility of every elected official to LISTEN to what the people are saying. For three years on every mailer, card, brochure and article I have written, I have posted both my phone number and home e-mail address. Myself, Representatives Sykes and Cebra started a cable TV show called “Representing Maine,” which is shown throughout this region — we are constantly writing articles and letters for publication.

Alexander Steed

As a result of this effort we are getting a fair amount of feedback from our constituents — but not enough. Communication is most effective when it goes both ways, and elected officials must not allow a disconnect between themselves and the people who voted them into office. Our country rests on the principles of a Republic. We are elected to represent the people and not be taken in by the all too often attitude I see in so many politicians of “We know what’s best for the people.” The public sees that, and they don’t like it, and should not accept it. That is why the VOTE still remains the most powerful political tool available to a citizen. They should use that vote wisely. In my opinion, the political system (the two primary parties), as well as the American people are more significantly divided today than at any time since the Civil War. The PARTISAN POLITICS must stop. If we can begin to work together toward common goals, the people of this country and state will also become less divided. “Lead by Example.”

Steed: Staring down the barrel of unsustainable debts and deficits, I wholly understand the origins of discontent. I have felt said discontent with many of the systems in control since I first became politically aware in my teens.

I do — however — find that much of said discontent to be misguided in its delivery, at least on the part of those funding and leading these various movements at the leadership level. More than the first half of the 00's were defined by an unconstitutional overreach on the part of the government, liberal spending, and redistributing taxpayer dollars to corporations in the form of noncompetitive contracts. I was protesting unconstitutionality and reckless spending for nearly a decade before these movements — funded largely by corporate players — came into the game over the past two years. I understand peoples' anger; I have felt it myself. And sure: a bombastic and reactionary move to the far right provides great theater for the campaign trail, but it does not provide answers or responsible governance.

Many leaders of these movements are wolves in sheep's clothing. Major players in the unconstitutional, sloppy spending times described above — Karl Rove and Dick Armey — are leaders in organizing and funding of this new movement. How can we move forward when we are shepherded by political operatives of the past? How can this movement be a populist one when it is subsidized by major corporations, and when outside interest groups have invested in Republicans $7 for every $1 invested in Democrats? I am angry, too, but we will move forward with temperance and rationality, not hostility and fear. As a representative of the people in this district, I propose that this is how we address the adversity that we face. I propose that this is how we progress.

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.

Sarty: (1.) COMMON SENSE WELFARE REFORM. Serious reform and a much more responsible management of our state’s welfare programs and MaineCare program are absolutely vital if we are to begin to improve the economic future of Maine. The current situation is clearly not sustainable — it is creating an almost impossible effort toward establishing a viable and functional state budget — and is causing a growing and very serious crisis for our state’s hospitals due to unpaid MaineCare services (which is fast approaching a state debt to hospitals of close to $400 million dollars). Three years ago I wrote an article published in the Sunday Telegram stating MaineCare was out of control and headed at high speed directly into a brick wall. Well, We have hit that wall and this program MUST be fixed NOW.

(2.) EDUCATION REFORM. Public education is the largest consumer of tax revenues in the State of Maine (including the state budget and local property taxes). It is a vastly complex system and varies tremendously from one school district or R.S.U to another. State revenue sharing is very unstable and based on a funding formula that I would equate to a “Carnival Shell Game.” The time is long overdue where, at least in my view, we should be calling together all the principal parties who have both the interest and the expertise to revisit our public education system (not just politicians and the Department of Education) to formulate solutions to both stabilize and improve our state’s public education system. To those students who are not college-bound, we are not offering enough and in some cases nothing more than a piece of paper stating they made it through 12 years. We need to offer much more technical training and trade options in grades 9 to 12.

(3.) Your question only asks for three major issues. There are many more that are of equal importance to be limited to just three. (1.) Healthcare insurance reform; (2.) Rethinking how we will fund the future costs of our state’s highways, roads, and bridges. (3.s) COMMON SENSE regulatory reform that works WITH the business community and not AGAINST it and truly inspires real economic growth instead of the current never-ending bureaucracy of regulation, fees, taxes, permits, etc. Why should a potato farmer in Aroostook County be put off by the Department of Environmental Protection for more than eight years in obtaining a permit to build a “farm pond” to hold water for the dry season (eventually approved). Why was one our state’s largest dealerships in farming and agricultural equipment put off for almost two and a half years by another state agency in obtaining a “driveway entrance permit” to his new business (eventually approved).

I believe our state in many ways is over-regulated and it is currently shameful that the state’s ability to administer these regulations is woefully inadequate. Economic growth will continue to stagnate if we don’t improve this situation.

Steed: The three issues that touch this state most directly — employment, education (and the health of our children), and the overall self-sufficiency and sustainability of the state can be addressed, at least in part, by taking a closer look at how we augment our cultivation, production and support of our agricultural systems.

The food that we produce and consume is related to our access to jobs, our wasteful utilization of unsustainably costly fuels, and our health. By further localizing our food production, we will create more opportunities for farmers and those who are moving towards this lifestyle, as well as more jobs in distribution, transport, and processing sector. We will reduce childhood obesity by increasing access to fresh produce to our students. We will keep money in our state. Not only does this make for an admirable move towards progress, it is a logical progression. Insecure, highly industrialized, globally distributed food systems have proven to be costly and dangerous (Decoster). Essentially large, industrial corporations, they keep food "cheap" by being on the receiving end of taxpayer money in the form of government subsidy. In other words, corporate welfare. Facing rising fuel prices over time and the looming threat of having to invest in the cleanup of a national food disaster, these are becoming less sustainable methods of distribution. We will make this possible by reexamining regulations that potentially slow the growth and competitiveness of small-to-medium scale farms, incentivize moderately-sized distribution systems by reconsidering how and where subsidy is redistributed, and by working with local schools to feature local produce in their lunch rooms and local agriculture a part of their course loads.

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

Sarty: This issue has been “beaten to death” in Maine for a long time. There are obvious tradeoffs to establishing gambling in Maine or anywhere else. Some feel the revenue to the local area as well as the state is a plus, as are the jobs represented in a casino. For myself, I feel the desire for gambling tax revenues is a symptom of government overspending and represents just another rock to turn over in its quest for more revenue.

However, this time the casino issue will be presented to Maine voters as a referendum vote on November 2. As a Legislator, I will honor the wishes of Maine voters and support their decision whichever way the issue is decided.

Steed: The proposed casino is a bad idea.

According to a study conducted earlier this year in an Ohio community that was examining the potential introduction of a casino, there is a direct correlation between the introduction of a casino and the anticipated amount of "problem gamblers," an issue that then requires a number of additional state services which require further state intervention and investment. In that case, anticipated increases in welfare benefits alone was close to $30 million per year. In other words, it will require additional tax investment. Further, in the case in Ohio — in addition to anticipated tax subsidy (again — for which the citizen is partially responsible), residents were projected to spend an additional $233 million on costs like divorce, bankruptcy and imprisonment.

Yes, jobs will be created, but with all of these expensive strings attached, it is not worth it to the residents or the taxpayers. Imagine if I were to suggest that a Wal-Mart were coming to town, and it would create jobs, but it would do so at a substantial, burdensome cost to taxpayers, both by way of taxes and personal incomes. It would also grossly increase addiction rates. How attractive an offer would that be?

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