2016-06-02 / News

Saco officials square off for Senate seat

Primary 2016

Justin Chenette Justin Chenette Two state representatives from Saco, Justin Chenette and Barry Hobbins, are seeking the Democratic nomination for Senate District 31, which covers Hollis, Limington, Old Orchard Beach, Saco and part of Buxton. The surveys appear in alphabetical order by last name.

Name: Justin Chenette

Age: 25

Occupation: Journal Tribune digital advertising executive, Chenette Media LLC, owner

Family: Married (thanks to marriage equality becoming law)

Education completed: B.A. in broadcasting, A.S. in TV News, minors: political science, professional multimedia communications

Organizations and activities (including past political experience): State representative (2012-present); founder/president/CEO, Saco Bay Center for Civic Engagement; current member of: Saco Bay Rotary Club, Saco Main Street Board of Directors, Biddeford-Saco Chamber of Commerce, Old Orchard Beach Chamber of Commerce, Thornton Academy Class Agent, Buxton-Hollis Historical Society, Unite Against Bullying ME organizing committee; state director of the Young Elected Officials Network; president of Maine Young Democrats (2013-2015); State Board of Education Member (2008-2009).

Barry Hobbins Barry Hobbins Top three issues:

1. Reduce taxes – middle class families are increasingly being burdened with high property taxes. This has to stop. People are leaving their homes because they simply can’t afford to stay. While the state doesn’t handle property taxes, we can prevent further cost shifts to the local level. Municipal revenue sharing for fire and police, education costs and teacher retirement, and other essential programs are constantly on the chopping block from this administration. The Legislature has to provide the funding necessary for towns/ cities like ours. Increasing the allotment of the Property Tax Fairness Credit would also be a huge help for families. We also need to ensure that the rich pay their fair share. They should be contributing more into the coffers rather than people that are scrapping to get by. Every time the top 1 percent get tax relief, we foot the bill by working harder and longer jobs, for often staggered wages. Raising the minimum wage to a living wage, not only makes sense for household incomes, but for our economy to grow. Overall wages should have increased based on inflation, but sadly that has not happened at the same level of the increasing cost of goods and serves.

2. Expand senior housing – one issue I hear from many local residents has to do with the availability of affordable housing options for our senior members of our community. My grandfather went through this before he passed away last year. He lived in Old Orchard Beach and was put on a waiting list for senior housing. It took him many months before he was finally able to get a place and that is probably on the fast end. Some of his friends in the same boat, had to wait years. This is a huge problem that cannot be ignored. You worked your entire life and should not have to worry about whether you can afford to have a roof over your head. This is why I co-sponsored Speaker of the House Mark Eves’ bill to put out a bond for senior housing projects across our state. Maine voters decided this was a priority and voted at the ballot box to pass this bond. Sadly the governor has held it from going forward. We need to push the governor to release this bond and continue other initiatives to expand affordable senior housing.

3. Affordable education – we have to properly invest in public education and we have make college more affordable. It is critical to the future success of our state’s economy. Voters decided overwhelming that the state’s share of education funding be at 55 percent. The governor continues to keep us from reaching that objective. This should be considered a mandate from the people to their elected officials. This would help fund our classrooms, to give teachers and staff the resources they need to continue and expand the quality of education our students are receiving. Once they get through K-12, young people need a way to afford college. Student loan debt is crippling my generation’s ability to buy homes, get out of low wage jobs, start a family, and other important milestones. This can be achieved by commonsense approaches to tax credits on student loan debt and restructuring our college system to be more competitive at a lower price.

Why are you seeking elected office?

We have an opportunity to hit the reset button at the State House. I respect my opponent’s 26 years of service to our state, but there comes a time when we need new energy and a new approach to tackling the longterm systemic problems facing our state.

I’m running for Senate because I feel called upon to step up and serve our community and to expand upon the consensus building and strong advocacy efforts of Sen. Linda Valentino, who has endorsed me. I want to continue the legacy she’s laid down, which is focused on working hard for our constituents and bringing people together. As Linda set the bar high, we should expect more from our next senator. Someone who goes above and beyond the call of duty.

Experience is measured not just in the number of years served, but what you did in the time that you were given. In my four years in the House of Representatives I’ve served on multiple committees, co-chaired the bipartisan youth caucus, and championed important legislation. I led the Criminal Justice & Public Safety Committee to a county jail funding compromise that brought more resources to York County. Passed an expansion of the Opportunity Maine tax credit to lessen student loan debt. Sponsored successful legislation to add community service to the list of high school graduation standards and add financial literacy to the curriculum. Made our highways safer by passing my bill to give transportation engineers more authority over speed limits than politicians. Fought to increase labor protections while pushing for the rich to pay their fair share. Co-sponsored bills to raise the minimum wage, create a cold case unit, put a bond out for affordable senior housing, and make it easier for children of veterans to obtain college tuition waivers.

Equally important to me is being involved in the community and providing leadership right here at home. The work with my nonprofit service organization, the Saco Bay Center for Civic Engagement that is housed out of the Biddeford-Saco Chamber of Commerce, has been very rewarding. I started the Spirit of Service Scholarship at Thornton Academy, brought area veterans and veteran-support organizations together to collaborate and organize community events, created a grant for Saco and Old Orchard Beach arts teachers to buy supplies as needed, and honored our local law enforcement officials through our blue light project.

My involvement extends beyond that as an active member of the Saco Bay Rotary Club, Old Orchard Beach Chamber of Commerce, assisting with downtown development on the Saco Main Street board of directors, and as a Thornton Academy class agent.

I’m the only Democrat in this race to be endorsed by the Sierra Club of Maine for my environmental leadership, to vote to investigate impeachment of Gov. Paul LePage, to publicly support the Ranked Choice Voting referendum, and to spend the past two years empowering new voters into our party as President of Maine Young Democrats. It’s time for a new generation of leadership.

If you could change one thing about state, what would it be and how would you do it?

I love Maine. It is a place I grew up, continue to call home and a place where I plan to start a family in the near future. Aside from its natural beauty, Maine’s greatest asset, what makes it most special, is its people. Though we are increasingly aging as a state.

We have a problem losing young people, the next generation of workers, taxpayers, and active citizens to other states with more promising opportunities for success. It saddens me to see the students I graduated Thornton Academy with continue this trend. One of the reasons I ran for office initially and continue to do so, is to turn that around. In order for our state to be able to be the breadbasket for New England, to be the regional economic driver, to be a thriving rather than cost prohibitive place to live, to afford to keep our social safety net for our senior population, we need to start retaining and attracting young families.

As co-chairman of the Legislature’s youth caucus, I spearheaded efforts to address the high cost of college and the impact student loan debt is having on my generation. We passed an expansion of the Opportunity Maine Tax Credit to ensure we are incentivizing all students to come back to the state to live, work, and play by reducing student loan debt. More needs to be done. We must find ways of making our state colleges more affordable. We need to expand and invest in our career technical education programs like we have regionally with the Biddeford Center of Technology where we send students to learn important trades. This prepares students for real world jobs. Work force development is one of the main items that employers ask legislators to improve. By starting at the educational level, we are setting young people on a course for success and give employers a pool of talent to choose from. Programs like Thornton Academy’s partnerships with area colleges for accelerated college credits and Old Orchard Beach High School’s Culinary Arts, Hospitality, and Tourism Academy are examples that could be replicated as a model across the state. The Precision Machining program that is a partnership between TA and YCCC, Pratt & Whitney and Arundel Machine Tool, gives students hands on entry into a new way of thinking about modern manufacturing is another great program.

Leaving high school with either a year of college under your belt or a full Associate’s Degree helps reduce the cost. In the same way, gaining skills that could immediately place you into the work force can be equally helpful. The more highly skilled and educated a new upcoming work force is, the more incentive for a new employer to recognize the benefit of relocating to our state or retaining employers from leaving.

How would you address the growing problem of opiate addiction in the state?

As a member of the Criminal Justice & Public Safety Committee, I’ve dealt with this issue head on. Through our efforts this past session, we crafted a comprehensive approach to dealing with the drug crisis our state faces. My committee worked to increase penalties for those individuals importing drugs into our state. There was previously a loophole in the law, not going after those individuals with an intent to deal/sell. We also stepped up enforcement by adding additional MDEA agents and created a special task force within state police to investigate and go after drug traffickers. Aside from enforcement, equally important is focusing on the ravaging effects of addiction. I’m proud of my vote to de-felonize first time minor drug offenses. This will enable people to seek the help they need, get back on their feet, without being marked for life as a felon for a one-time drug offense. Filling up our jails doesn’t solve the underlying issue of addiction nor does it rehabilitate the individuals from continuing the dark spiral of drug use. I’ve visited county jails, I’ve visited the state prison, I’ve visited with the folks at Milestone Foundation in Old Orchard Beach. From my visits and talking with the individuals going through drug treatment or punishment, it was eye opening to see how easy it was to start down the wrong path with very limited options to break the cycle. One thing I learned is what starts out as prescription pain medication, can turn into an insatiable appetite for the same high-like feeling at a cheaper price. Hence why you see average people you would never suspect have fallen victim to opiate addiction going from pain meds to drugs like heroin. This governor continues to push for cuts to important treatment models that are proven effective. Part of the legislature’s comprehensive plan included increased treatment dollars, a new detox facility, and drug court funding. We have to deal with the addiction plaguing our state. There is more work that needs to be done, but we made major steps toward addressing multiple aspects of the problem this past session. Since my time on the State Board of Education, I’ve been a big proponent of drug prevention in our schools. We have to start reaching kids/students early on. Set them on a path of living healthy, happy, and successful lives. One way to do that is have resource officers and health teachers that are already in the schools, educate students on the negative impact of drugs. DARE, the Drug Abuse Resistance Education is one program that I went through in school that has been proven effective. I would also continue to push for more service-learning in the classroom. When students feel connected to something larger than themselves, when you give them an opportunity to help people, when you connect what they’re learning in class with the real world, they are less likely to turn to destructive behaviors. Prevention must be part of the solution in the long term.

What do you consider your greatest political achievement?

We have a system in Augusta that’s rigged against us. The lobbyist and special interest group with the largest checkbook has the most direct influence over public policy decision making in our state. Which is why since day one, I’ve fought the status quo interests not just on the right, but within my own party that sought to continue playing this completely legal, but totally unethical game. Legislators today are taking money through their PACs (political action committees) directly from the very industries we are supposed to be regulating like big pharma and telecommunications companies. What’s even worse is when you have let’s say the chairman of the energy and utilities committee, which overseas telecommunication regulations, taking money from those same companies like AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, and Time Warner Cable. If that’s not a conflict of interest I don’t know what is. There is a reason why these multinational corporations donate money to legislators. It’s not out of the charitable goodness of their hearts. It’s not because they even like the legislator. It’s because they want access, influence, and a vote.

Sadly this isn’t a far out example, it’s the big difference in this race. Unlike my opponent, I don’t take money from those corporate lobbyists. I’ve never run a PAC and I’m the only one to be a Clean Elections candidate. We should expect more from our elected officials than being beholden to corporate lobbyists. I stand up to them, I don’t give into them. I consider this an entire network of completely legal bribery that continues to harbor our distrust in government and it casts doubt on whether our elected officials really have our back.

I fought to pass comprehensive campaign finance and PAC reform that made it illegal for Clean Election candidates from operating and fundraising through PACs. This closed one major loophole in the system. If you profess yourself free from special interests, you shouldn’t be allowed to fundraise on the side from those very interests. In order to do this I had to bring Democrats and Republicans together along with the Maine Citizens for Clean Elections. Not to mention get our respective party leaders to give in to the will of the people on this issue. This was no easy feat, but ultimately this showed how my bipartisan leadership and perseverance can prevail over keeping status quo in place. We need to elect different people to office that aren’t afraid to break the mold and push back. We need to elect people that not only refuse to play the game, but seek to change the game entirely.

Name: Barry J. Hobbins

Age: 65

Occupation: Practicing attorney

Family: Wife Donna, children Jonathan, Delia and Liam

Education completed: Lifelong resident of Saco educated in the Saco school system; graduate of Thornton Academy (1969); Attended St. Michael’s College – Dean’s List Student (1969-1971); Bachelor of Arts Degree University of Maine Orono (1973), major, political science, minor, philosophy, Dean’s List student; Juris Doctorate Degree, University of New Hampshire School of Law, Franklin Pierce Law Center) (1977); Harvard Kennedy School (2013) – Senior Executives in State and Local Government Program – awarded certificate - (selected by class members as Head of Class)

Organizations and activities (including past political experience): State representative – District 14 (2012-present); Current member and House chairman of the Judiciary Committee (2012 to present); Appointed by Sen. Curtis Bramble (Utah), president of the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) as one of six vice-chairmen to the NCSL General Standing Committee of Officers (2015 to present); Member of the NCSL Communications Financial Services and Interstate Commerce Committee (2012 to present); Member of the NCSL Legislative Effectiveness Committee (2015 to present); State Senate 2004-2012 (District 5) 122rd, 123rd, 124th and 125th sessions of the Maine Legislature Representing Saco, Old Orchard Beach, Dayton, Buxton and the western portion of Biddeford; Senate Democratic Floor Leader (2010-2012) (highest elected state Democratic officer holder); member and chairman of the Judiciary Committee (2004 to 2008); Ranking Member of the Business Research and Economic Development Committee (2004-2006); member and Senate chairman of the Joint Standing Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee (2006 to 2010); Chairman of the Conduct and Ethics Committee (2004-2012); Chair “Right to Know “Advisory Committee (2005-2011); State Senate 1988-1990 (District 31)

114th Session of the Maine Legislature representing Saco, Old Orchard Beach, Scarborough and Dayton; Senate chairman of the Joint Standing Committee on Judiciary (1988-1990); chairman, Committee on Conduct and Ethics (1988-1990); Member of the Joint Standing Committee on Business Legislation (1988-1990); co-chairman of the Committee to Study the Intergovernmental Drug Enforcement Agency (BIDE) (1989- 1990); member Law & Justice Committee of the National Conference of State Legislatures (1988-1990); state representative 1972-1984 Saco District 119; Youngest Member of the 106th Maine Legislature Elected (youngest elected in Maine at that time at age 21); chairman of the Law & Justice Committee of the National Conference of State Legislatures (1983-1984); member/co-chairman of the Joint Standing Committee on Judiciary (1975-1984) (chairman 1979-1984); Member of the Joint Standing Committee on Labor (1972-1974)

Past political activities: Chairman of the Maine Democratic Party State Convention (2012); Delegate, Democratic Party National Convention (1980, 1984, 2004 and 2012); Finance Committee Baldacci for Governor (2002); Finance Committee - Tom Allen for Congress (1996-1998); Finance Committee - Brennan for Governor (1994); Finance Committee/Maine - Clinton/Gore (1992- 1996); Finance Committee - Friends of Tom Andrews (1992); Finance Committee - Brennan for Governor (1990); National Finance Committee - Dukakis/Bentsen (1988); National Steering Committee - Gephardt for President (1987-1988); Democratic Nominee for Congress, First Congressional District (1984); Delegate, Democratic Party National Mid-Term Conference (1982); Chairman of the Maine Democratic State Committee (1980-1984); Member of the Democratic National Committee (1980- 1984); Member of the Association of State Party Chairs (1980-1984), Executive Committee 1982-1984); Chair Maine Democratic Party (1980-1984)

Professional activities: Member of the Maine State Bar Association; Member of the Maine Trial Lawyers Association; Member of the American Bar Association; Member of the York County Bar Association; monthly columnist for Sun Journal, Sunday Edition (1999-2004); political analyst Maine Public Broadcasting System (1992-2003); regular panelist “Public Opinion” / Maine Public Broadcasting System (1999-2003); political analyst and guest host on WGAN’s Morning Show (1993-present); television political analyst/commentator for WCSH TV (1990-2002); board member Hospice of Southern Maine, 2015-present; Member of the Board of Trustees of the University of New England, Biddeford, (1988- 2006) Executive Committee (1991-2006); board member, Southern Area Agency on Aging (2002-2006); Member of the University of Maine Foundation (1991-2003) (2005-present) (chairman 2001-2003); member and panel chair State of Maine Board of Property Tax Review (1995- 2002), Appointed by Gov. Angus King; member of Saco Bay Rotary (1990-2001); member of the Commission to Study the Future of Maine Courts (1990-1993); member of the Criminal Law Advisory Committee (1989-1990); member of the State of Maine Parole Board (1987- 1988); member of the Governor’s Board on Pardons and Executive Clemency (1986); co-chairman of the Northern York County Y.M.C.A. Capital Construction Campaign (Community Division) (1986-1987); Maine Board of Labor Relations Factfinder (1979- 2001); member/chairman of Governmental Affairs Committee of the Biddeford & Saco Chamber of Commerce & Industry (chairman 1985- 1986; member 1985-present); member of the Joint Select Committee on Indian Land Claims (1980); Member of the Probate Code Revision Commission (1979-1982); Member of the Juvenile Code Revision Commission (1976-1978); Corporator of the York County Savings Bank/Coastal Savings Bank (1976-1982); Legal Advisor Fraternal Order of Eagles; Legal Advisor Saco Little League (1995-2006); Board Member (1995-1997) (2003-2005); Maine Women’s Lobby (Member); Corporator Gorham Savings Bank (2003-present); State of Maine Justice Advisor Group; Board Member Maine Bar Foundation (2005-present); Part owner and Member of the Ownership Group – Maine Red Claws – National Basketball Association (NBA) Developmental League – Affiliate of the Boston Celtics (2008 to present); Elected Chair by members of the Right to Know Advisory Committee (2005-2011)

Top three issues:

1. Steadfast advocacy for the communities in my district. A legislator’s top priority in Augusta needs to be looking out for the interests of constituents. Sometimes this can mean my working against traditional allies or working with traditional foes. But regardless of party lines or special interests, the absolute most important interests are those of District 31. This has always been, and will always be, my primary motivation for serving in the Legislature. Not unlike the clients of my law practice, the communities of my district can rest assured that in the competitive world of state government, they are represented by one of Maine’s most tenacious fighters and skilled negotiators.

2. Accelerating our transition to new economies. My work as chairman of the committee grappling with telecommunications, broadband and clean energy issues has clearly taught me that Maine can no longer hope that paper and fish will sustain our economy. While traditional Maine industries remain important, we must diligently work to create opportunities for new industries, particularly in York County, which is a stone’s throw from one of the world’s great technology hubs inside Route 128. With three young adult children, I have never been more invigorated about the urgency of our future economy, so that the next generations will have more opportunity than I have.

3. Social justice issues. As a lifelong Democrat who has always risked political fallout because of my stands on social justice issues, I feel more strongly than ever about sticking up for the little guy, the less fortunate, the vulnerable. Recent history has made it even more imperative that elected officials represent the people who elect them, not special interests. Citizens United gave corporations “person” status, but as long as I hold public office, I will represent people. My work as chairman of the committee dealing with human rights and justice issues has always maintained this focus on people, whether they are discriminated against or whether they are somehow less able to fend for their own rights; I consider it my job as an elected official to be their voice in the halls of government.

Why are you seeking elected office?

Community service. Over the years my political activities have probably cost my family some wealth, but nonetheless I have found a way to pay my bills, put three kids through college, and live in a comfortable home. Thankfully my wife Donna’s teacher salary has picked up the slack in the lean years. The intrinsic reward that I get from helping people more than compensates me for public service.

It can be a major deal or a minor favor, but working for the public good is the greatest reward I know. When I returned to the Legislature after many years focused on my law practice, our communities were in turmoil because of a trash incinerator that was apparently destined to remain downtown forever. Massive community forces had marshaled against massive corporate forces, resulting in perpetual stalemate. Meanwhile the downtowns languished in foul odor, devoid of economic growth. Residents from downtown Biddeford through Saco to Old Orchard Beach were subject to not just the smell, but occasional flurries of incinerator ashes. As the host state senator, I made it my number one priority to broker and close a deal that had eluded everyone for decades. It was a difficult process, but my perseverance, know-how, relationships and negotiating skills finally helped close MERC and open the door to a twin cities renaissance. I have worked similarly to protect our interests on such major developments as Poland Spring.

Small victories do not appear in the paper though. Hundreds of times I have fielded a call from someone who needs my help. It can be a single mother struggling feed her kids and work two jobs. It can be an elderly gentleman who is not receiving health care services that he has earned, but who has nobody to advocate for him. It can be the phone call that I make to the commissioner’s office in steadfast defense of a constituent in need. It can be the addict who lives to succeed in rehab, thanks to the second chance she got when I was quietly able to convince a stubborn governor to change his mind and do the right thing.

No matter the toil and tedious hours, regardless of the harsh political atmosphere, the public criticism and the public praise, the common thread is service to community. I have become good at it. I enjoy it. And I am more passionate about providing it than I ever have been. It is a humble honor to serve in office and it has been my good political fortune that voters appreciate an effective advocate when they have one.

If you could change one thing about state, what would it be and how would you do it?

I wish we could fast-forward to January 2019, when a new governor is giving his or her first State of the State address. Preferably the new governor is a Democrat, but if not, I hope we have a governor who is more ready and willing to work with the Legislature on the important issues of our time. Regrettably, the current governor has impeded much progress that we should have made, and like him or not, he will remain governor until 2019. I have become known as one of the few legislators in either party who can “do business” with the governor, and I am happy to use my experience and skills to perform that function as needed. But I regret that it is necessary for me to fill that role, which I will continue to do until that day when a new governor is sworn in. Meanwhile, whether as a chairman or member of leadership, I have always sought to think several moves ahead on the political chess board. In the next two years I intend to lay the groundwork for that 2019 transition, because we cannot afford to do anything but hit the ground running at that time.

How would you address the growing problem of opiate addiction in the state?

I have been a leader on this issue in Augusta, and despite our successes, we tragically seem to be losing ground. Some of the ground we have lost was due to our failure to swiftly act on what we know works. That failure was largely partisan, and particularly laid on the governor. But we have made advances nonetheless. There is broad agreement that a three-tiered approach is crucial: Enforcement, treatment and prevention. We must continue with these, but with greater urgency. I also think that other elements are important, such as public education and enlisting greater federal cooperation.

What do you consider your greatest political achievement?

Winning election at age 21. Yes, I have passed hundreds of bills, many of landmark status. I have been at the heart of great political outcomes like gay rights, renewable energy and my work to save lives in the opiate crisis. I chaired the Maine Democratic Party during a time when Democrats made great strides, economically and socially. I have brokered dozens of major compromises among seemingly irreconcilable adversaries. All those accomplishments were for the public good, and I am proud of them. But my greatest political achievement was the personal and professional evolution that took place during my formative years in politics. I served 12 years in the House while I attended law school and started my family. During those 12 years I struggled to pay the mortgage and through those years Augusta taught me more than I ever could have learned in my thousands of hours in college classrooms. I learned from great public servants like my own Sens. Pete Danton and John Kerry. I learned from Govs. Ken Curtis and Jim Longley. I mastered a political process that took years to understand, forging relationships, building my knowledge and honing my skills. Those formative years laid a deep foundation for my life of public service. Had those years not gone as well as they did, I might today be a retired lawyer or judge, and a good golfer! But public service is my life, and it energizes me even more now than it did when I was that 21-year-old making my first trip to the overwhelming jungle known as Augusta.

Return to top