Walter Kumiega said his first experience in governance was a position on the Board of Child and Family Opportunities, a Head Start grantee for Hancock and Washington counties that operates a combination of Head Start and child care centers focusing on early childhood education and care.

Eight-and-a-half years ago he was elected to the Deer Isle/Stonington School Committee where he continues to serve. Kumiega has served as either chairman or co-chairman of that board for a total of six years.

“We’ve had our moments, but for the most part it’s a pretty good group to work with,” he said. “We’ve had some turnover but there are [still] three of us who were on board when I was elected to it.”

Kumiega said school committee budget workshops coincided with the busiest part of the Legislature’s schedule and that, if elected, he would serve on the committee until a replacement could be elected at the March 2011 town meeting.

“I also served on the Regionalization Planning Committee for the [current] school consolidation,” he said. “We went through two rounds of planning. The first one ended in a referendum that was defeated and the second one just ended because some of the [other] towns didn’t want to pursue it.”

He said his district had not yet heard a response to an application it filed for a waiver from the penalties assessed against districts not in compliance with the consolidation law.

“I spent quite a bit of time on the island recreation board coaching and organizing sports,” Kumiega said. “It’s a great way to get to know people.” He said an unintended result of that work was greater visibility for his campaign. “People seem to want to be represented by someone they know,” he said.

Kumiega said he gains support for his ideas by discussing all the options with other decision-makers to see what their point of view is and what solutions they offer for problems under discussion.

“I have a hard time having a discussion with somebody who just says no and doesn’t have an alternative,” he said. Kumiega said he likes “back and forth” exchange.

A registered Democrat, Kumiega has never attended a state party convention. He said he read parts of the party’s platform and offered a couple of suggestions to his county committee prior to the state convention that was held in Lewiston on May 21 and May 22.

“I’m pretty independent,” he said. “There are some things, such as equal rights and separation of church and state that I feel pretty strongly about. I’m more concerned with what the needs are of this district.”

Kumiega described his legislative district as spread out and economically diverse, with Stonington relying primarily on lobstering and Brooklin being a boat building community.

“Mt. Desert is struggling to maintain a working population,” he said. “The cost of living is high and there are a lot of retirees.”

“There’s a big difference going from town to town,” Kumiega said.

“I think wind energy, where it’s not affecting homes, is a great thing,” Kumiega said. “I have a hard time with environmentalists who are against putting a wind turbine on top of a mountain when in Kentucky and West Virginia environmentalists are trying to keep the coal companies from blowing up the mountains.”

He said he hoped that residents of Vinalhaven would find solutions to the noise problems that have surfaced since a three-turbine community wind project was developed there in 2009.

Kumiega said he supported offshore wind development if it could be done without harming the fisheries.

“There is all kinds of speculation as to how many turbines would be built and how much space they would take up,” he said. Kumiega said there were still a lot of questions to be answered, but that offshore wind farming could be a great boon to Maine’s economy because of the need for marine services, boat handlers and licensed captains.

“But how many fishermen is it going to put out of business?” he asked.

He said that conservation should be emphasized and that he had taken some weatherization training.

“I’ve seen a really strong effort at Efficiency Maine to get people involved in the program,” he said. “There’s a significant amount of money there and I haven’t seen people participating. I think the rules are fairly complex and it’s not working as well as it could.”

“I’m a carpenter,” Kumiega said. “I see homes all the time that could benefit from weatherization. I also see homes that have been damaged by poorly done weatherization.” He said that Efficiency Maine’s emphasis on professional audits and installation was good, but that there was room for improvement in the system that connects homeowners with the funds.

“It could save hundreds or thousands of dollars for some people,” he said.

Kumiega said that medical use of marijuana was supported by state law and had received the approval of voters two times.

“I don’t see any reason to change it,” he said. “It needs to be controlled so that medical marijuana isn’t getting into the hands of people who don’t have a medical need for it.”

“I think there are people who have a real medical need for it and I think it helps,” he said.

“School consolidation is not necessary,” Kumiega said. “I think it was handled poorly. I think it could have been done with a carrot instead of a stick.”

He said an incentive-based approach would have been accepted more easily without so many hard feelings and bitterness.

“I think state agency consolidation is probably a good thing,” he said. “I think state government is bigger than it needs to be.”

He said duplication of functions among two or more departments caused problems.

One example he gave came from his experience with home weatherization. He said he was certified through the Maine Housing Authority and later found out that Efficiency Maine would not accept that qualification when disbursing funds.

“That has since been worked out,” he said. “I’m going through another round of training and will be receiving certification next week.”

Kumiega said he understood that the Board of Environmental Protection was a citizen review board that could reverse decisions made by the cabinet-level Department of Environmental Protection. Gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler has proposed eliminating the BEP.

“The department is following the laws that are passed by the Legislature,” Kumiega said. “I’m completely for protecting the environment.” He said DEP decisions could be appealed through the courts.

“I don’t understand what BEP’s role is, other than to confuse issues,” he said.

Kumiega said health care was probably the most common issue raised by citizens he has met in his campaign.

“It affects everybody in every community,” he said.

“I think we’re on a better track, but I don’t think we’re on the right track yet,” Kumiega said. He said having more people covered by health insurance was a good idea but the United States spends twice as much as other countries.

“It’s a budget killer,” he said. “It drives up property taxes and local government costs.

Kumiega said the Legislature needed to look at why health care was so expensive. He described a personal experience in which a relative with a suspected gall bladder condition was diagnosed through ultrasound 10 years ago.

“A few months ago a friend [with the same condition] had a CAT scan,” he said. Kumiega said the difference in cost for the same basic result was more than $800.

“The proper relationship [between federal fisheries regulators, the Maine Department of Marine Resources and local fishing communities] would be the exact opposite of what we have now,” Kumiega said.

“Federal fisheries regulators seem to have their own idea about what’s going on,” he said. “They don’t seem to know or particularly care about what the actual conditions are or what the effect of their rules will be.” As an example, he spoke of a recent Zone C Lobster Council meeting where DMR Commissioner George Lapointe told lobstermen that a move to reduce the limit on trap tags, rejected by local councils and DMR, was being revisited by federal fisheries managers. Kumiega said a proposal to reduce either the number of fishermen or the number of traps each could have was expected in the future.

“The federal stand is that lobster is overfished,” he said. “They don’t seem to have any scientific evidence. Lobstermen say there are large quantities of young lobsters and notched [protected] females in the water.”

“We need to be better negotiators to have a stronger voice representing our fishermen,” he said.

Kumiega said Maine has a right and a need to weigh in on national and global issues such as climate change.

“We’re a lot closer to our constituents than our congress people because there are so many of us,” he said. “If the Legislature can reach consensus on an issue that they feel strongly enough [about] to pass it on to a higher level, I think that’s good.”

Kumiega said he was concerned about the state budget and retirement plan. He said the latter issue had two parts. The first issue was how to pay for it.

“The other is that the retirement system makes it difficult to recruit educators from other fields,” he said. “If you’ve been working in industry for 20 years and you become a teacher you stop contributing to Social Security. Your [Social Security] benefits are frozen when you stop contributing and you may or not be in the Maine state retirement system long enough to get benefits.”

He said the federal government was out of touch with the needs of small farms and food producers.

“There’s a federal movement to prohibit raw milk sales,” Kumiega said. “They’re doing it slowly but it’s expected that at some point in the future federal dairy inspectors are going to try to get Maine to pass laws that prohibit raw milk sales. We need to fight that and make some of the others laws we have, such as those for poultry processing, change to let small farms process food.” He said current and proposed regulations were designed for “people like Jack DeCoster, and he ignores them anyway.”

“When large industrial food suppliers make a mistake they can make tens of thousands of people sick,” Kumiega said. He said small-scale farmers were much more careful than big businesses and referred to a Wyoming group that was trying to pass a food freedom act that would deregulate face-to-face sales of farm products.

Kumiega said he had not yet decided which gubernatorial candidate would receive his vote.

“I think Eliot Cutler has a lot of good ideas but I am leaning toward Libby Mitchell,” he said.

The Herald Gazette Reporter Shlomit Auciello can be reached at 207-236-8511 or by e-mail at sauciello@villagesoup.com.

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