Helen Shaw is campaigning for the second time to represent Maine House of Representatives District 46, which serves Camden and Rockport.

She said Sept. 22 that Bill Chapman, chairman of the Knox County Republican Committee and Shaw’s husband, asked her if she would consider running for the State House in 2008, based on her background as a community activist in Chicago.

“He told me I could run as a placeholder if I did not feel comfortable being a candidate,” she said. “[Sen.] Chris Rector came to our house and talked to me about what it is like to be a state representative. After some thought, I agreed to run. I felt that if I was going to put my name and reputation out there I should actually run for the seat and not be a placeholder.”

“I’m basically a very shy person who prefers to sit back and watch,” she said. “At that point going door-to-door was very difficult for me.” Shaw said that campaigns in Chicago, where she lived until 2001, were very different.

“This year it was simple,” she said. “I had the signs.”

Shaw said she was a community activist in Chicago, before moving to Maine, and that her energy was focused on helping residents communicate with the aldermen who form that city’s governing body.

“I have a lot of planning experience,” she said. “We took a desperately poor area and it’s now one of the premier shopping areas of Chicago.” She said the old residential neighborhood faced gentrification pressure and that she mediated between “the haves and the have nots.”

Today, Shaw said, most of the original residents of that neighborhood have moved on and the businesses that survived the transition are doing well.

Since coming to Rockport, Shaw has served on that town’s Charter Commission, the Camden-Rockport Pathways Committee, the Rockport Cemetery Committee and the Rockport Elementary School East Redevelopment Committee.

Shaw said the way to gain support for unpopular positions was though statistical proof and personal conversations.

“It’s a matter of talking to people,” she said.

Shaw is a Republican and attended that party’s state convention in Portland, May 7 and May 8, where she voted in support of the party platform.

She described Austrian economics, called for in that platform, as a system that was the opposite of Keynesian economics.

“It’s a laissez-faire system,” she said.

Shaw said she supported some parts of the platform she voted for.

“I do believe in smaller government,” Shaw said. “The federal government has been pushing its way into issues that are [the responsibility of] the states. In reaction, the state pushes into people’s lives. We need a smaller, less intrusive government.”

Shaw said that some parts of the Republican state platform addressed federal issues that are not under the control of the Legislature.

She said the state should not be borrowing and that people were going to be hurt by impacts on the state retirement system.

“You can’t spend your way to prosperity,” Shaw said. “It just doesn’t make sense.”

She said she was not a Tea Party candidate, but said she agreed with that constituency’s emphasis on the Constitution and desire for more limited government.

“They feel like they’re losing control of their children in school,” she said. “A lot of Tea Party people homeschool. They tend to be more socially conservative.” She said she did not follow the Tea Party movement closely.

“Wind power looks pretty good,” she said. “I don’t want it here on land.”

She said she attended a forum conducted May 20 by the Rockport Conservation Commission and found a suggestion from Habib Dagher, director of the Advanced Structures and Composites Center at the University of Maine at Orono, to place large-scale wind developments out of sight of land very persuasive. She said she was concerned about questions in regard to the noise and light disturbances reported near wind installations.

“We should look at tidal and solar,” Shaw said. “We definitely need to cut down on coal and oil and so on.”

“I don’t think we’re going to see quick relief,” she said. She wanted Maine to work with Canada on energy issues.

Shaw said she had no objection to the use of marijuana for medical purposes.

“I don’t understand why we have to set up special centers,” she said. “Why can’t they do it through a pharmacy? They’re used to dealing with controlled substances.”

Shaw was not familiar with a proposal from Democratic gubernatorial candidate Libby Mitchell that calls for merging the Department of Economic and Community Development with the State Planning Office.

In regard to consolidating school districts, she said that her experience in the Midwest was with much larger districts than those in Maine.

“In the Midwest, the county is a stronger government agency and the towns have little authority,” she said. “My ancestral roots are in New England and I understand what local control is about.”

Shaw suggested that one way to achieve financial efficiencies would be to have one school district for each of the state’s 16 counties. She said that such districts could have a single superintendent and allow students to attend any school within that district.

She said every town would be represented on the county-wide board.

“It makes more economic sense,” she said. “Chicago has only one district. Portland doesn’t need two school districts.” Shaw said that more spread out counties could hold board meetings in a different community each month and that superintendents could have small offices in a number of buildings in order to keep in touch with the entire district.

Shaw said she would like to see a cost-benefit analysis for specific departments before positions were cut.

“The governor did a slash and burn,” she said of Gov. John Baldacci’s 10 percent across the board reductions. Some departments might need more staff, Shaw said.

She gave the example of a failed attempt to consolidate the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife with the Department of Marine Resources.

“Lobstermen didn’t want [to be regulated by] DIF&W because that’s more recreation related,” she said.

“I make a distinction between health care and health insurance,” Shaw said. She said people should be able to purchase health insurance in the same way as they do automobile insurance, buying from any source and selecting options from a menu.

She mentioned health care services such as Medicare and those provided by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs as programs that citizens pay into through taxation.

“Our service people deserve health care from the federal government when they’re old,” she said. Shaw said she would like to see some sort of catastrophic coverage for those who cannot afford to buy insurance.

“The federal government should provide clinics,” she said, adding that traveling clinics could serve those in rural areas.

“We spend millions, billions overseas to build hospitals.” Shaw said. “We should be helping our own people first.” She said such clinics could be paid for through the savings realized from ending some foreign aid programs.

“Local fishing communities know their needs and resources best,” Shaw said. “The Department of Marine Resources should work with them to reach a balance
that will protect the fishing resources and allow fisherman to make a living. The DMR should assist Maine’s congressional delegation in advocating for Maine’s fishing communities.”

Shaw said that individuals and private groups in Maine had a right to address national and global issues, but that citizens elected people to the U.S. Congress to deal with those issues and that Maine had enough problems within the state for the Legislature to work on.

“The main thing is, we need jobs,” Shaw said. “In order to get the jobs we have to have more businesses here.” She said there was overlap in agency authority that made it confusing for business owners and that some departments didn’t communicate well with others.

“Delays cause businesses to go to other states,” she said. Shaw said that utility and insurance costs were high in the state.

“There are too many hoops, too many rules, too many regulations,” she said. “Rules and regulations are great, but they need to be streamlined.”

Shaw said she was also concerned about welfare reform.

“We’re not one of the poorest states,” she said. “We’re right in the middle and yet almost a third of the population receives some sort of welfare benefit.”

“When a person goes in [to the Department of Health and Human Services] for one service they evaluate them for 22 services,” Shaw said. She said caseworkers offer assistance that clients have not asked for.

“But they don’t give you any way off,” she said. Shaw said people who find employment should not lose all their benefits. “People need a stepwise way to get off.”

She said DHHS had a very big caseload and was not able to monitor all the people they served. She said that, in spite of the independent nature of most Mainers, the two-to-one match that the federal government gives to states for welfare spending acted as an incentive to keep people in the system. Shaw said Maine allowed clients to receive benefits longer than mandated by federal law.

“If we just followed the federal rules we’d probably save money,” Shaw said.

She said that having work gave people dignity and hope.

“The job of DHHS should be to help these people find jobs and get off welfare, not to hand out services left and right,” Shaw said. The elderly and “truly needy” should be helped, she said.

Shaw said she was supporting all Republican candidates in November and that she would vote for Paul LePage for governor, but added that a secret ballot should mean that one’s party affiliation should not matter. She said some states hold open primaries, where voters could chose which party’s ballot to cast at the time of the election.

“It’s nobody’s business who you’re voting for,” Shaw said. She said she voted in a Democratic primary when she lived in Chicago.

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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