County voters win with Senate race candidates

About-face! Gov. Paul LePage finally has acknowledged that his oft-told tale about a high school student receiving the overdose-reversing drug Narcan, then getting up and going back to class, was not accurate. It was a misunderstanding in which Deering High School was confused with Deering Oaks Park.

After the Portland police chief joined the ranks of those who said the incident never happened, the governor admitted his error. Just as he was on the verge of requesting a federal investigation of Maine schools by U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch, the governor got the story straight – or at least straighter.

There are plenty of true stories about the impact of drugs on the lives of young people in Maine. No one is denying it. The governor’s bottom line: “Let’s keep our kids alive.” Amen, brother.

About-face! Maine Rep. Bruce Poliquin (and a few dozen other Republicans) switched his vote on an LGBT discrimination bill in Congress, handing Democrats a defeat they had not anticipated. But wait! About-face again! Last Wednesday, he swung the other way again, pointing to a religious-protection amendment that allowed him to renew his support for the measure.

This means that one’s religious convictions may be used to treat other people badly. How about this for an amendment? If you want to claim a religious exemption to the anti-discrimination bill, you may do so only through the religion on your birth certificate. That way you couldn’t suddenly join the First Church of East Nowhere and defend your wish to discriminate.

And now for the about-face we dearly hope is coming: That of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, which is dunning food stamp clients to recover excess money the department sent to clients in error.

Common misconceptions notwithstanding, most people on food stamps are (a) hard up against it and (b) wish they could support themselves. When one is struggling to put food on the table, it seems a bit heartless to receive a bill from the state saying, “So sorry! Our mistake! But you owe us a thousand dollars.”

If a food stamp recipient had a thousand dollars, they might not be on food stamps. Making a fraudulent claim for benefits for which one does not qualify is one thing. Being inadvertently overpaid due to the state’s error is entirely another. Now those unfortunates face having their food stamp or Social Security benefits reduced, or their income tax returns captured by the state. It is time for a DHHS about-face.

None of this does much to cause an about-face in the abysmally low approval rating of elected officials. So how lucky are we in Hancock County to have an election for our local state Senate seat with three intelligent, good-hearted and well-liked candidates?

Ted Koffman of Bar Harbor and Moira O’Neill of Surry are the contestants in the Democratic primary. They even sent each other a $5 qualifying check for their Clean Elections efforts. Publicly, they speak respectfully of each other. Privately, they do the same.

Koffman previously has served in the legislature. He is well known for his environmental efforts. He has worked at the College of the Atlantic and at Maine Audubon. But his priority is “eco-eco,” or “working at the nexus” of ecology and the economy. “If one falls apart,” he said, “then the other will, too.”

Had it not been for term limits, he would like to have stayed on for another term or two. Not forever, but long enough to use his growing knowledge of the legislative process to further his work in sustainable development.

O’Neill is a nurse who also has taught at the Husson University School of Nursing. She has a passion for health care. New to politics, O’Neill sees her campaign experiences through the lens of her nurse’s training and the lifetime habits of observation and problem-solving that come with that territory. “Really,” she said, “I’m taking a community assessment.” Often her conversations with voters reveal a problem in someone’s life. “You can’t just leave that lying there, she said. “You have to do something with it.”

Waiting in the wings is incumbent Republican Sen. Brian Langley of Ellsworth. He has no primary challenger and will face the winner of the Koffman-O’Neill contest. He, too, is in this for what he can do for the people of the state.

“I’ve really gotten to love the policy side of this work,” he said. Suspended between the end of the legislative session and the opening of his busy Ellsworth restaurant, he may be hiring staff and getting his kitchen up to speed, but his mind is often consumed with thoughts of public education, the policy committee which he chaired this term, or with how to improve the legislative process in Augusta.

Our candidates are doing their jobs, willing to serve and getting out to meet people. Now it is time for you to do yours. The primary election is June 14. Several towns have local elections that day too. Don’t forget to vote. Lucky us. The choices in the Senate race are all good.

Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait worked for 25 years as a registered nurse at Mount Desert Island Hospital. She has served as a Bar Harbor town councilor and as an independent state senator from Hancock County.

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