Originally published in The Weekly Packet, October 25, 2012
Candidates for House 37 seat take on local issues
by Faith DeAmbrose
In a two-way race for the House of Representatives seat for District 37, incumbent Ralph Chapman and challenger Sherman Hutchins Sr. both want your vote. House District 37 includes Blue Hill, Brooksville, Castine, Penobscot, Sedgwick and Surry.
Chapman (D-Brooksville) is currently serving his first term in the House of Representatives. He is a scientist, industrial engineer and educator.
Hutchins (R-Penobscot) has served in the House in the past, having represented a slightly different district configuration. He is a George Stevens Academy graduate, former engineer for Pratt & Whitney (with special FBI clearance) and a small business owner.
Penobscot Nursing Home
“My general feeling is that the best solution would be for it to remain open,” said Ralph Chapman, “but I understand that it will take significant investment from an entity, and I don’t know what that would be.” Chapman said ideally a public/private partnership might be what could save the home from closing in Penobscot, but he is not aware of any movement toward that end.
He said the allocation of nursing home bed licenses is something to be addressed; not creating additional beds is “unrealistic” given the growing elderly population. He said the for-profit health care model should be examined because “in a system driven solely by profit, it is the industry that will determine the viability and the location of services.”
Hutchins said that while he is not in favor of closing PNH, “it has been a long time since anything positive has been done to the facility.” He said that in addition, it does not appear that those at the state have seen the facility “as a place for the future.” Since PNH has been in receivership (since 2008), “the state has made decisions that are not positive for the Penobscot location.”
Noting that PNH has a history of being a “great facility” and a large employer, he said it is “a tough subject” due to the costs necessary to keep the doors open to the aging facility. He said he does believe the state will need to expand the number of bed licenses available in the coming years to respond to the state’s aging population, but the addition of beds will mean additional costs for the state.
Improving health care, costs
Chapman does not see a “viable long-term mechanism that does not involve a single-payer model,” but adds, “we will get there.” He said recent efforts to pass Republican-led health insurance reform, including the ability to purchase across state lines, will likely drive up costs for Mainers.
“The concept of purchasing across state lines in principle is fine,” said Chapman, but he is concerned that the products offered will provide fewer benefits at higher costs. “The issue of health care has been politicized,” he said, “far beyond making sense for the health care consumer.”
As for providing reimbursements for hospitals that provide care for MaineCare patients, Chapman said the issue is about managing state resources. He said he has long been an advocate for looking at the entire state budget, including things like tax breaks to see where the money actually goes. “We spend more money giving wealthy people tax breaks than we do actually helping people,” he said of the budget.
Hutchins does not support a single-payer model and believes basic research and development would “suffer” in a government-run solution. (Show me any agency the government has taken over that now runs better? he asked). “We need to look at everything to cut costs” when it comes to health care, said Hutchins, including the tightening of MaineCare, especially for the young and healthy and establishing a “cap” for medical malpractice lawsuits.
“Health care is the responsibility of all of us, in one way or another,” said Hutchins, adding that it is a matter of “priorities” and that resources “have to fall with the folks who need it most because the taxpayers ability to pay for it is limited.” When using taxpayer money, said Hutchins, “you have a special responsibility to see that it is being used wisely.”
Hutchins is a strong supporter of getting people “back to work,” which will in turn grow the economy, capture more tax dollars and bring down the costs paid by the state for things such as health care since there will be more people employed.
Local food ordinance, resurgence of farming
Chapman said he supports the local food ordinance passed in some of the towns in his district. He said he has been “working closely” with local farmers “to understand how best to be helpful.” He said he would support legislation aimed at strengthening the intent of the ordinance.
“Towns have the ability to pass ordinances,” he said, adding that in and of itself it would be legal. However, Chapman also acknowledges that the ordinance is in conflict with state and federal regulations, and, therefore, “the matter will likely be determined through a court process.”
Chapman said a more effective way to support the intent of the ordinance is to purchase locally and support local farmers. Doing this also sends a message to the state, said Chapman.
Hutchins is the grandson of a farmer and recognizes “the rights of farmers.” He said he supports the intent of the local food ordinances passed in towns, including his hometown of Penobscot, and would support legislation aimed at strengthening it on a state level.
As a “believer in local control,” Hutchins said he was pleased to see the passage of the ordinance in a number of area towns and to see “the democratic system at work,” but acknowledges that both the small farmer and state need to “make some accommodations each way” as the issue moves forward.
Hutchins said he would also work toward a process to ensure “safety of products” as well.
Hutchins said natural-based industries, such as farming, forestry and fishing are important to the Maine economy, and in these areas, regulations should be streamlined and possibly eased to ensure their viability into the future. “It is important to protect our farms or we will lose them,” he said.