The two men who are competing to represent Farmington and Industry in the state Legislature may have more in common than they would like to admit.
Lance Harvell, the 49-year-old Republican incumbent, and Keith Welch, the 70-year-old Democratic challenger, are both outspoken, passionate and persuasive when they discuss the problems facing House District 89.
Each is willing to speak his mind on issues that many would treat delicately.
“These ‘no-tax pledges,’ they’re insane,” Harvell said about public oaths taken by many of his fellow Republicans always to oppose a tax increase. “These guys are locking themselves in before they get there, which is removing their ability to negotiate. Lobbyists come up and say, ‘you said X’ and many of them don’t even know it. They say ‘I did?’ You might as well be playing poker with your cards up. In Washington, it’s absurd, and in Augusta it’s almost as bad.”
Welch, a retired school principal, also speaks up, even when his views go against the grain of Democratic platform planks.
“In the economy, we’re not doing nearly as badly as we think we are,” he said. “Unemployment is relatively high but there are jobs that people don’t take for various reasons and they could. People get a little bit greedy about the jobs that they’ll take because they don’t think a job is paying what their time is worth.”
But while their lay-it-on-the-table communication styles are similar, their views on many of the issues offer a sharp contrast for voters.
The biggest problem in the state is the economy, said Harvell, a service operator at the Verso Paper Mill in Jay. It’s a problem he would address by reducing energy costs, building a more skilled workforce and simplifying the corporate tax code.
“Our corporate tax policies are way out of whack in this state,” he said. “We give companies equipment tax breaks, for example, and then sometimes they leave unused equipment sitting in a warehouse just to get the break. I think we need to look at corporate welfare and simplify it with a tax rate that is reliable. The overall rate would make it a revenue-neutral bill.”
Welch, on the other hand, said that the flagging economy is a symptom of a broken health care system.
“Health care is such a sham and a shame and a disgrace, it affects everybody,” he said. “If a company employing 40 people has a health insurance increase of $75,000, they lay people off, and the people who are laid off now don’t get insurance because they can’t afford it.”
Harvell said he is working on a project that he hopes will result in a natural gas pipeline from Jay to Farmington, a measure he said will reduce energy costs for the area. “I think that could be a major boon for local homeowners and local businesses,” he said. Harvell also said he feels that hydroelectric power and wood-pellet heating systems could give the area an edge in producing low-cost energy.
Welch said that he would work hard to be an advocate for the poor.
“I’m not happy with the approach that everyone on welfare is a lazy bum. That’s not true,” he said. “The real problem is not poor people. Poor people can’t affect the system much. Real fraud is people who don’t pay their taxes at the high levels, not the people who don’t pay their taxes at the low levels. You can’t compare hundreds of millions of dollars to a few thousand dollars.”
Both candidates agreed that the days when Maine could rely on the manufacturing sector are gone and that technology will play a big role in any successful replacement.
While Harvell thinks that progress can be made on reducing energy costs relatively quickly, he sees a longer process for “seriously increasing the number of information technology jobs.”
At the paper company, Harvell said, he has seen firsthand the generation gap that exists between young and old workers.
“The kids, the computer skills are amazing,” he said. “They’re a little rough on the soft skills, showing up to work on time, the work ethic. The state could help companies with new hires, with some sort of apprentice deal where they could learn that about the person.”
Welch said that Maine needs to take better advantage of the global market that has been opened up by the Internet by encouraging entrepreneurs who want to sell Maine-made products.
“We don’t export,” he said. “The truck comes in full but leaves empty.”
Matt Hongoltz-Hetling — 861-9287