Political newcomers seek House District 144 seat

HOULTON, Maine — Two political newcomers are looking to fill a seat in the Maine House of Representatives for House District 144 after the current representative dropped out of the race.

Republican incumbent Greg Swallow of Houlton was planning to seek re-election to the seat, but withdrew from the race a couple weeks ago, citing personal reasons for his decision.

“I was very proud to represent the people in my district and enjoyed working in their interests,” Swallow said. “A major consideration was time. There will be a great deal of personal demands on my time in the next year or two; otherwise, I would have run for a second term.  Constituents are right to expect their elected representatives to dedicate a great degree of time to their legislative responsibilities and I honestly felt that I could not commit the necessary amount of time required in the next session with all the current demands. Having said that, I would not rule out running for office again at some point in the future.”

In his stead, Tracy Quint of Hodgdon will be the Republican candidate, while her opponent is Democrat Kathryn Harnish. Neither candidate has held a public office prior to this election.

House District 144 is composed of Amity, Bancroft, Benedicta Township, Cary, Glenwood, Haynesville, Hodgdon, Houlton, Macwahoc, Molunkus Township, Orient, Reed, Silver Ridge Township, South Aroostook and Weston.

The Houlton Pioneer Times asked both candidates identical questions on their views on COVID-19 and several other important issues affecting The County. Their abridged answers follow.

What is your background?

KATHRYN HARNISH: I grew up just outside of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and graduated from Haverford College with an undergraduate degree in religion. I’ve earned advanced degrees in library science and business administration, and I’m currently working toward my masters in social work at the University of New England. Eager to return to my small-town roots, my husband, Rob Lawless, and I moved to Houlton from suburban Chicago in 2003. Together, we own Took a Leap Farm, where we raise dairy goats; we also owned and operated The Vault restaurant 2016-17. Most of my professional experience is in the library software industry, where I most recently served as senior vice president of product strategy for Innovative Interfaces.

TRACY QUINT: I am from Virginia and moved frequently due to my family’s military background.  We moved to Topsfield when I was 16 and I graduated from Lee Academy. I then moved to Brunswick and accepted a position as a payroll clerk at the Brunswick Naval Air Station. I met my husband, Clay, while furthering my education at [Eastern Maine Technical College] to become a nurse. During this time, I worked at Bangor Hydro Electric and volunteered as a child life specialist on the pediatric ward of Eastern Maine Medical Center. We moved to Hodgdon, my husband’s hometown, and I have been a registered nurse for over 23 years. As a nurse educator providing certification through the state, I have worked with nursing homes, mental health organizations, assisted living facilities, and providers to those with intellectual disabilities. During this time, I also ran a small business and home-schooled my two children. I am currently employed by the Community Living Association in Houlton.                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

Why do you want to run for this seat?

KH: Middle-class families in Maine are squeezed from multiple directions, making it hard to build a good life, raise children, and save for retirement. I decided to run for the Maine House to help increase the vibrancy and sustainability of our communities here in Aroostook County. My background in strategic planning and creative problem-solving, coupled with my commitment to working collaboratively to address our most pressing challenges, will bring benefit to my neighbors in District 144.

TQ: I am concerned for our state’s future, so when asked to fill this position, I felt the need to step up. I believe my qualifications and life experiences have given me the background necessary to bring unique insight and solutions into the crises facing our community and state.

What are the most significant issues facing the greater Houlton area and Maine that you would address if elected?

KH: A rapidly shrinking population, coupled with the fact that 25 percent of Aroostook County residents are over the age of 65, presents a critical challenge to the region. On our current trajectory, it will become increasingly difficult for our communities to maintain their labor forces, sustain local businesses and the tax base, and provide care for the growing number of senior residents. We need to find ways of retaining and attracting younger families to the area by fostering education in professional trades, expanding high-speed Internet, and capitalizing on a new trend in remote working to bring new workers to our towns, among other ideas.

TQ: Health care that provides coverage, lowers costs of prescriptions and improves health and wellness through preventative care and screening is a necessity. Affordable housing for the elderly is vital. With our aging population, I strongly support incentives for those working in nursing and home care settings. I have personally worked in facilities that have been understaffed and the employee exhaustion, burn-out, and turnover is high. This demand will only increase in the future and should be addressed now before it becomes a full-blown crisis. School choice is also a topic that has been brought to my attention as many parents have voiced concerns about the direction of their children’s education since the [pandemic] shutdown.

What should be done to fight the COVID-19 pandemic in Maine?

KH: Addressing COVID-19 requires that we walk the fine balance between protecting public health and ensuring that small businesses, the engine of our rural economy, remain financially healthy. We’ve done a pretty good job so far. Our rates of infection have been among the lowest in the country, and with the exception of our hospitality and entertainment industries, most businesses are now returning to relatively normal operations. Moving forward, we have an opportunity to develop protocols that are more responsive to regional situations; it’s worth evaluating opportunities to manage COVID responses at the county, rather than state, level. Observing recommendations for wearing masks and social distancing is an easy and effective way to minimize the risk of a widespread outbreak that would assuredly cause significant economic — and potentially human — loss for our area.

TQ: We should be proactive with COVID-19 and known data should guide our plan. The survival rate is much better than predicted and is a welcome statistic to those of us in the medical field. We know that those most affected have pre-existing conditions such as advanced age, obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure and have also been shown to have deficient vitamin D levels.  I would address improving our overall health which has shown to be the best deterrent to COVID-19. State policy, up to this point, has been made without representative input. I would love the opportunity to be a part of that conversation going forward on your behalf.

What is your stance on the U.S.-Canada border closure? 

KH: Given the very low incidence of infection in Maine and New Brunswick, combined with the high level of cross-border trade, employment and family activity, there are safe and responsible ways that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Public Safety Canada could agree to open the border for local residents. The closure of the border has a significant economic impact on our local businesses. When we owned The Vault restaurant, 25-30 percent of our revenue came from Canadian customers, which is typical for many retail and service businesses along the border.

TQ: I believe the U.S.-Canadian border should be open. An open border is vital to our families who have been separated, our community and our businesses. The ports of entry are a federal issue and must be addressed at the federal level.

Substance use disorders, including alcoholism and addiction to methamphetamine, are more common in The County than in other parts of Maine. What would you do to combat that?

KH: We need to decriminalize addiction and redirect the resources spent unsuccessfully fighting the war on drugs toward comprehensive treatment programs. Substance use is a public health issue rather than a criminal issue, and the cost of arresting and incarcerating people with addictions, instead of providing substance abuse and mental health treatment, far outweighs any potential deterrent effects. We must also develop collaborations between counselors, health care professionals, law enforcement, faith communities, and families to identify local problems and develop prevention and intervention solutions tailored to specific community needs.

Additionally, we need to meet the demand for medically assisted treatment using Suboxone and intensive inpatient or residential treatment. Maine has critical gaps in each of these areas. And we should increase harm reduction efforts, including access to naloxone, an antidote for opioid and heroin overdoses.

TQ: These issues must be addressed at their cause. In my career, I have witnessed the tragic consequences. Homes and families destroyed by alcohol and drug abuse also suffer emotional and physical abuse. Mental health intervention is crucial. Our social services and criminal justice systems are being overwhelmed by this. We must combat the cycle of addiction and abuse during childhood. Counseling services as well as life skills training is an important component to breaking this cycle.

What is the best way to help stimulate the local economy?

KH: Investment in a scalable, sustainable economic development plan is critical. We need to leverage what makes our region unique — incredibly hard-working people, tremendous natural assets, our location on I-95 and the Canadian border, a winter sports industry that has not really been tapped, and more importantly, see a comprehensive plan to fruition. In the two decades that I’ve lived in this area, I’ve seen tons of passion for the southern Aroostook region and lots of creative ideas, but building and sustaining momentum on meaningful development always proves challenging.

TQ: The additional unemployment benefits have been detrimental to many of our employers causing a great number of employees to receive more money on unemployment than while working. Our nursing homes and care facilities have been particularly harmed and many other employers have shared their concerns. We are also facing a childcare shortage as many childcare centers have chosen to close due to overly stringent state guidelines and regulations being imposed. Parents attempting to re-enter the workforce need access to safe and affordable childcare. Businesses should be welcomed as they are also the employers that bring prosperity to our tax base and community.


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