The news Tuesday that the Androscoggin Mill in Jay will lay off 190 workers has injected fresh urgency into the issue of manufacturing jobs in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District one week before the election in which challenger Emily Cain is trying to unseat U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin.

The candidates have differed before in their positions on how best to address the state’s declining paper industry.

Cain, a Democrat, said last month in a debate on Maine Public Radio that more needs to be done to help small businesses and foster innovation in forest products and other industries. Poliquin, a Republican, has emphasized a need to cut back on punitive regulations and high taxes.

On Tuesday, both candidates reacted to the news of the mill layoffs with different plans for a path forward.

Cain, in an email, called the news of the layoffs “heartbreaking” and said that while the news is devastating for workers and their families, it’s also a “call to arms” to address economic challenges and grow jobs in the 2nd District.

“Too many jobs are controlled by massive multinational corporations and Wall Street investors, and they’re happy to eliminate jobs to increase their profit,” Cain said, emphasizing that there need to be more jobs in the 2nd District that are “controlled by Maine people.”

Poliquin, meanwhile, called the loss of jobs “horrible” and said in a statement that Maine’s paper mills have felt pressure for decades from high energy costs and unfair trade policies, and that those are the areas he would continue to focus on.

Verso, based in Memphis, Tennessee, employs about 530 people in Maine and operates six other mills nationwide.

Cain said it’s important to preserve the state’s remaining paper mill jobs, but she also placed a focus on growing the economy in other ways.

“We have to save the jobs we still have, and we have an opportunity to rebuild our traditional industries if we focus on empowering working families and the middle class,” she said. “We can grow good jobs, which may look a little different than they did before but still fit our expertise, let us support our families and let us feel secure in our future.”

Both candidates have said they oppose the Trans Pacific Partnership, a fast-track trade deal that would reduce barriers to foreign trade.

“Since my first day in Congress, less than two years ago,” Poliquin said, “I have pushed hard and voted consistently to help lower energy costs for our businesses, reject unfair trade deals like the TPP and eliminate harmful regulations that are pushing job creators out of Maine.”

Poliquin announced his opposition to the TPP in April, more than a year after taking office, while Cain has said she opposed it before that.

Brendan Conley, press secretary for Poliquin, said the congressman is working with a federal Economic Development Assessment Team that recently visited Maine to assess the forest products industry and come up with a plan for future development.

“While the markets for specific paper products are shifting, energy costs also continue to be a major expense and impeding factor for these mills,” Conley said. “Congressman Poliquin has voted repeatedly and consistently against proposed regulations on energy producers that would drive up energy costs for our mills.”

Cain also addressed energy in her statement, saying she worked to expand access to natural gas in the state in an effort to lower the costs of manufacturing and would like to build upon that effort, along with providing incentives for renewable power generation.

When it comes to help for laid-off workers, Cain said more needs to be done to guarantee unemployment insurance, ensure that trade adjustment insurance is available to Maine workers who lose their jobs and that re-training programs are available.

Poliquin also has supported assistance for laid-off workers and worked with U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King over the last two years to deploy federal funding to help laid-off mill workers in Madison and Jay.

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm

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