ELLSWORTH — With election day less than a month away, voters in House District 136 got the chance to hear from incumbent state Rep. William “Billy Bob” Faulkingham (R-Winter Harbor) and Democratic opponent Antonio Blasi in an online forum Tuesday night.
Candidates answered questions on topics ranging from COVID-19 to climate change in the virtual meeting hosted by The League of Women Voters and The Ellsworth American. Ellsworth American Managing Editor Cyndi Wood moderated the event.
District 136 includes Gouldsboro, Hancock, Mariaville, Osborn, Sorrento, Sullivan, Waltham, Winter Harbor, Fletchers Landing Township and Steuben.
Blasi, a Hancock County commissioner, former educator and Maine guide, says “all legislation should be considered through the lens of racial and economic equity.” Blasi believes in fostering “sustainable communities,” where constituents have access to employment, housing, preventative healthcare, food security, water quality protection and restorative justice.
Faulkingham is a commercial fisherman, former Winter Harbor selectman and served in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve. He wants the state to adopt a “welcoming” economy so that his children and younger generations have business opportunities that entice them to live and work in Maine.
As to whether Maine has effectively mitigated the spread of the coronavirus while also mitigating the economic impact, “the short answer is no,” said Faulkingham. “I feel that no one person has all the answers to deal with this emergency, nor are governors expected to make these kind of unilateral decision for this extended amount of time.” Faulkingham urged state leadership to bring the Legislature back to session to “come together to form a consensus,” adding “the people of Maine haven’t really had a say in where we’re headed.”
Blasi felt the state had done an effective job of juggling public health and the economy, noting “it seems the phased and restricted safe reopening of restaurants allowed local harvesters to sell product without glutting the market.” Blasi noted that shops are open, schools are returning to in-person instruction and personal protective equipment (PPE) is being distributed. Despite these accomplishments, Blasi acknowledged that constituents expressed to him the need for additional business assistance, housing assistance, suicide prevention measures and temporary disability insurance in the wake of the coronavirus.
Both candidates backed support for Mainers struggling with substance use disorders amid the state’s opioid epidemic.
“We should definitely continue all the programs that are existing,” Blasi said, including a pilot project in Washington County. “I would support any bills that come before me in terms of expanding the outreach to those Mainers [with substance use disorders],” he concluded.
“The first thing I would do…is to decriminalize drug use,” Faulkingham said, specifying that people caught with small amounts of illegal substances they do not intend to sell should not go to jail. “Drug abuse, substance abuse is a sickness, it’s not a crime,” he added. Faulkingham said those struggling need help and that police officers would rather spend their time dealing with “real crime and real criminals.”
On climate change, Faulkingham called it “a great concern of mine,” especially due to his work as a fisherman. Faulkingham said he has tracked rising sea temperatures but said that while the effects of climate change may be negative on a global scale, that might not be the case on the local level. “As the temperature warms, we get a longer summer season, so it would be a longer tourist season,” he said. He also said warmer temperatures may be increasing the state’s lobster catch.
Blasi proposed enacting a “climate council action plan” and said he would work closely with the Economic Recovery Committee recommendations in an effort to “meld” economic efforts with sustainability goals. “My goal is providing leadership in helping the planet and its people to live sustainably and feel fulfilled,” he said. Blasi proposed establishing the Maine Power Delivery Authority, a “nonprofit consumer-owned electricity and broadband utility.”
Both candidates voiced support for expanding broadband access throughout the state. Blasi said he would look to collaborate with legislatures to “craft legislation to provide the funding,” to make widespread internet access possible. Faulkingham called the project an “infrastructure issue” and proposed solving it through a bond initiative.
Election day is Tuesday, Nov. 3.