2018-10-19 / Community News

Maine House of Representatives – District 28

Election 2018

Meet the candidates

With Republican incumbent Heather Sirocki term limited after eight years, the race for Maine House District 28 can be seen as an opportunity for either party. The two candidates vying for Sirocki’s seat are veterans of the local political arena.

Democrat Christopher Caiazzo has logged three years on both the board of education and the town council, where he currently sits. Republican Lin Higgins, meanwhile, comes into the race with 16 years previous experience in the State Legislature, as well as five on the town council.

Survey forms were emailed to both candidates. They are printed below in alphabetical order.

Name: Christopher Caiazzo

Age: 48

Address: 17 Elmwood Ave., Scarborough.

Phone: 883-6482

Occupation: Regional Sales Manager.

Family: Wife Beth, Sons Joshua and Justin.

Education completed: B.S. Marine Engineering with a Nuclear Power Minor.

Organizations and activities (including past political experience): School Board 2012-2015 (Finance Chair ‘12-‘15); Town Council 2015 – 2018. (Vice Chair ‘18); Town Council Committees: Finance (‘15-‘18), Appointments (‘15-’18, chair ‘16), Rules and Policy (chair ’18); Liaison to Energy Committee, Transportation Committee, Long Range Planning Committee, Greater Portland Council of Governments (GPCOG).

Top three issues:

1. Tax reform – Over the past eight years Scarborough’s share of state, municipal and school revenue has been cut by millions of dollars while our neighbors like Gorham, South Portland and Cape Elizabeth have seen their shares increase. How is this possible? For six years I have been asking that same question to our state representatives.

I have heard excuses like “Scarborough is a wealthy community” or “The schools will just have to do more with less” or my very favorite “Schools are already overfunded anyway.”. Any person who spends so much as an hour in one of our local schools can tell you that these statements are just plain false.

The people of Scarborough need folks in Augusta who will represent their needs, not those of the party they belong to. We as a town have been forced to either make up these budget short falls or cut services. This paves the way for our annual budget battles as we struggle to find the balance between ways and means. This cycle has to end.

If we as a state are going to continue to cut income taxes for our most wealthy citizens and rely on regressive tax structures like property tax as the primary funding mechanism for town services, then the state should do its part to lessen that burden on the local taxpayer. As your representative I will advocate for the reinstatement and expansion of the state property tax circuit breaker program which will benefit our fixed income seniors and lower income property owners.

2. Health care – Medicaid expansion – Prescription drug costs and opiate addiction are all major issues that will have to be dealt with in the next legislative session. Maine has one of the oldest populations in the country and Scarborough has one of the oldest populations in the state. Leaving upwards of 70,000 Mainers uninsured or underinsured only creates a void in coverage that we all end up paying for.

When people forgo routine health care due to an inability to pay, they typically have one of two outcomes; they use the more expensive ER for such services or they delay treatment and end up experiencing much costlier or even deadly outcomes later on.

Hospitals cannot deny treatment (nor should they) so who picks up those unpaid hospital costs if not the patient? All of us - in the form of increased hospital rates and higher insurance premiums. The people of Maine overwhelmingly approved, through referendum, the expansion of Medicaid coverage to the most vulnerable segments of our population.

Our representatives need to respect that and implement it. In terms of opiate addiction, Operation HOPE in Scarborough has fulfilled a major need in our community by providing support to those who seek it. While I appreciate and respect law enforcements desire to be part of the solution, programs like Operation HOPE should not be the long-term solution. We need better in-state detox and treatment facilities.

3. Economic reform – Maine is in trouble. We have been experiencing a brain drain for several decades. Low unemployment figures mask the fact that the states workforce is shrinking at an alarming rate.

Companies struggle to find qualified employees in nearly every sector of the economy. Our infrastructure continues to deteriorate at an accelerated rate due to long term cuts in maintenance and repair. Top that all off with an energy policy that has been a disaster and it appears we are headed for an economic collapse. I believe we must – and most importantly can turn this around. We need to work together to develop long term solutions to our economic problems starting with educational reform.

Let’s follow the law and fully fund K-12 education at 55 percent. Let’s develop private/ public partnerships between businesses and the state university and community college system to ensure we are teaching the skills necessary to allow students to live and work in Maine after graduation and provide the high valued labor our companies are desperate for.

Let’s embrace alternative energy as the economic driver that it has proven to be, not the pariah our Governor claims it to be. Most importantly, let’s allow people who are willing and able to work make a livable wage so they don’t need to rely on expensive government services in order to survive.

In your own words, why are you seeking elected office?

I am a Mainer. I was born in Portland, graduated from Maine Maritime Academy with an engineering degree. We have lived and raised our family in Scarborough for the past 18 years. I proudly served my country as an officer in the United States Naval Reserves for 11 years.

I have served this community faithfully as an elected official for the past six years. In that time, we have had many positives that I am very proud to have been a part of. We developed and fostered a strong working relationship between the school board and the town council which encouraged improved communication, transparency and cooperation through the entire budget process and helped us deal with severe cuts in state revenue sharing.

We have taken a fiscally responsible approach to long range budgeting by stabilizing the annual tax rate increase to 3 percent or less (actual tax increase for my three years on the council is 2.12 percent) all the while maintaining critical services, reducing our overall debt, increasing our general reserve fund and maintaining our strong bond ratings.

We have passed the school budget on the first round two of the last three years. We have increased funding to our seniors property tax relief fund and we have vastly increased the number of affordable housing units in Scarborough for middle-class families. But it hasn’t all been rainbows and butterflies. I have witnessed firsthand the devolving of civil discourse starting at the federal level and permeating through our town at levels that I did not expect. I have seen neighbors whom have known each other for decades, reduced to petty name calling and even slander on social media if they did not agree 100 percent with their positions. When we run for local offices in Scarborough we do not put party affiliations after our names. We do not represent sections of town, but the entire town. We have lots of problems, that is clear. The only way we can solve them is to stop the petty partisan gamesmanship and start working together.

Name: Linwood M. Higgins

Age: 70

Address: 63 Payne Road, Scarborough

Phone: 653-1485

Occupation: Retired from family businesses.

Family: Significant other; Combined: five adult children; 4 grandchildren

Education completed: Scarborough High School, University of New Hampshire, BA in economics (with honors)

Organizations and activities (including past political experience): Scarborough Town Council 5 years; State Representative 16 years; Appropriations Committee 10 years; Minority Floor Leader 4 years; Maine Liquor and Lottery Commission 3 years; High School Building Committee (Chair) 1990; Scarborough Charter Commission member 2009; Volunteer, Guardian Ad Litem Program and Habitat for Humanity; Gov. William King Masonic Lodge.

Top three issues:

1. Every business person with whom I have spoken complains of a large shortage of skilled workers in Maine. We have thousands of young people choosing degrees from expensive four-year universities, while our job market is actually filled with opportunities for high-tech machinists, welders and other skilled trades.

These are good-paying, career-long jobs with benefits. Maine needs to invest in and promote coordination among Maine high schools, community colleges and the university system, by facilitating schools to expand partnering programs with private sector businesses.

These partnerships should assist high school students by encouraging them to think about what jobs are actually available in the work place. Businesses should provide training equipment, offer mentoring programs, as well as summer intern programs so that students are ready to start work on day one. This is an enormous opportunity for Maine to keep its young people in the state and also help our overall economy.

2. Unfortunately, the opioid crisis is still a top priority. Many studies, reports, etc. have been produced: it’s simply time to aggressively put them into action. Scarborough’s own Operation HOPE is a perfect example of how to get people off the streets and into treatment.

Funding is always an issue. However, once addicts are in the system I am concerned that there is no real “quality control” (for lack of a better term). Each provider should be constantly evaluated on their ability to professionally serve clients in a timely, cost-effective manner. Thus, in addition to providing resources, Maine needs to be diligent in monitoring the ongoing operation of drug treatment facilities that are being supported with taxpayer money.

3. Over the last few years, Maine’s financial health has gone through a remarkable recovery. Overdue bills have been paid, the retirement system has been brought back to solvency, and Maine ended the year with over a $100 million surplus.

Next year there will be a temptation to spend that surplus on new programs. That would be a mistake. My philosophy: Let’s do what we do right, before we move on to new programs.

How would I spend the money? A portion of the surplus should be used to replace recent cuts in the revenue sharing program to Maine’s towns and cities. Any increase in revenue sharing would help lower all property tax bills throughout the state. Additionally, some part of the surplus should be used to pay down higher interest debt or spent on a need that will actually reduce ongoing operational costs (e.g., insulate state buildings to reduce on-going energy expenses).

Maine’s overall financial condition should not be compromised by simply spending a large surplus in a single, two-year budget cycle.

In your own words, why are you seeking elected office?

Simply put, I would like to return to the most rewarding work I’ve ever done. At the same time, I hope to help bring change to the tone of the legislature. Every person who has taken the time to talk with me as I go door-to-door is disappointed that there aren’t more legislators willing to work together. I share that concern.

As someone who’s been there, I understand the pressures of the process and the tough issues that are required to be resolved; yet, there is no excuse for the divisiveness and acrimony going on in Augusta (or Washington, either).

I believe my record of accomplishments and the ability to forge consensus is well-known by former constituents, as well as people with whom I served. Clearly the current atmosphere is far too political and contentious to properly represent the true interests of Maine people.

My pledge is to give the people of District 28 a fair-minded, experienced, responsive and full-time representative in Augusta.

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