Joan Welsh said Sept. 21 that she wanted to be a better advocate for the citizens of Maine House of Representatives District 46, which serves Camden and Rockport. The last two-year session was her first in the Legislature.

“That first session was like a fire hose of information and learning about how the Legislature works,” Welsh said. “It’s very interesting work.”

She said she wouldn’t describe it as fun, but that it was very worthwhile.

Welsh’s work prior to serving in the Legislature included 30 years in directing nonprofit organizations with budgets that ranged from $200,000 to $15 million.

“I worked to bring disparate groups together to solve problems,” she said. Welsh said she helped to create statewide and national coalitions to address the issue of domestic violence and served on the board of several Maine organizations, including Outward Bound, the Maine Media Workshops and the National Resources Council of Maine, where she said she worked to build consensus and make the hard decisions that would move the organization forward.

“I’ve had budget experience, managed budgets and done strategic planning,” she said.

Welsh said that getting others to support a position they didn’t initially agree with was a matter of education.

“People need to see concrete ways [a change] will help them with their lives,” she said. She said incentives were better than penalties in moving people forward.

As an example, she described work she did this past summer to reduce the amount of solid waste going into the state’s landfills.

“We’re running out of room,” Welsh said. “The terrain we have is not conducive to a lot of landfills. We need to reduce the pressure, which means we need to recycle more. It’s very hard to change behavior.”

Welsh is a Democrat. She attended the state convention in Lewiston on May 21 and May 22 and said she agreed with her party’s platform.

“It’s about civil rights and economic opportunity,” she said. Welsh said that government had an important role to play as long as it did no harm and did not overreach itself.

“It provides important services to our citizens,” she said.

“I think [wind energy] is about location, location, location,” Welsh said. “I am a supporter of wind energy but placement needs to be evaluated. Big turbines placed where people are living doesn’t seem to be working.”

Welsh said she supported offshore wind development and that Maine was in a good position to provide services for that industry.

“It’s a way off,” she said. “It’s not overnight.” She said concerns that have been raised about wind power were valid and needed to be addressed.

“There are places in this state for a viable wind industry if it’s community wind and smaller turbines,” Welsh said. She said other alternative means of producing energy, such as tidal, geothermal, solar hot water and wood pellets should be pursued.

“At the top of the list is conservation,” Welsh said. She said she invested in a number of conservation strategies in her own home, such as insulation and reducing her use of fossil fuels, and that she supported the work by Efficiency Maine to promote energy conservation.

“I think we have to get all of our old homes re-insulated,” she said. “We’re on the right track.” She said tax incentives were a good tool in persuading homeowners to insulate and upgrade systems for greater energy efficiency.

Welsh said medical marijuana made sense for some patients, but that it should be carefully regulated. She said she knew of those with severe cancer problems who benefited from using marijuana.

Welsh said that the Board of Environmental Protection was very important. Gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler has called for the replacement of the BEP with a judicial review board.

Welsh said it was important to balance protecting people and the environment with the needs for jobs and industrial growth.

“It’s a big challenge,” she said.

She said consolidation of state departments should be considered on a case-by-case basis.

“I don’t think there’s a magic, overarching answer,” Welsh said.

“I like the discussion about streamlining the process,” Welsh said. She said business owners told her that regulation was not as much of a problem as the “cumbersome process” of documenting their compliance.

She said consolidation of school administrations was a good idea, but that there was no one-size-fits-all solution.

“Our state is so different in so many parts,” Welsh said. “One plan doesn’t necessarily meet the different needs of the state.”

She said she was undecided about gubernatorial candidate Libby Mitchell’s proposal to merge the Department of Economic and Community Development with the State Planning Office.

“I’m not sure what her goal is in doing that,” Welsh said. She said she wasn’t sure such a move would increase resources available for economic development planning.

“I do think the state needs to put a lot of thought and effort into economic development,” Welsh said. She said more money should be spent on promoting Maine’s existing industries and discovering what entrepreneurs need.

“In Maine we have a small population and a large state,” Welsh said in response to a question about health care. “We have problems with obesity and diabetes.” She said these conditions drove up the cost of health care and insurance.

Welsh said the federal government adopted Maine’s insurance rules that ensure that subscribers are not dropped from insurance plans due to pre-existing conditions or those that develop during the coverage period.

“We’re the fifth highest in the nation for coverage,” she said.

“That’s not to say we don’t have problems,” Welsh continued. “Too many people don’t have insurance or have deductibles that are so high that they’re not getting care until the conditions have become extreme.”

Welsh said she would like to see an increase in the federal match for state dollars spent on health care.

“It’s a big challenge for our state,” she said. “We have an aging population that’s not very healthy.”

Welsh said responsibility for regulating fisheries should be balanced between federal agencies, Maine’s Department of Marine Resources and fishermen and urged federal regulators to work closely with the state and local constituents to find compromises.

“It’s tough to balance the need for protection and preservation with the financial needs of our local communities,” she said. She said preservation was a long-term need and that sustaining communities was sometimes approached as a shorter-term issue.

She said states had every right to weigh in on national and global issues such as climate change.

“We operate within a national and global world today and have interests well beyond our borders,” Welsh said.

Welsh said she was planning to vote for Libby Mitchell for governor. She said Mitchell was willing to move to the center on issues and thought that Eliot Cutler’s lack of government experience was an issue.

“We had about 1,700 bills in the 124th Legislature,” Welsh said. She said that fewer than 400 of those bills came to a vote.

“It’s a challenge to be fully informed about all those votes unless you are on the committee that holds the hearings,” she said. “I relied a lot on constituents and those affected by the work.” She said organizations such as Aqua Maine and individuals such as teachers and her neighbors in Rockport helped her learn more about issues.

“Education is one of the most complicated issues in the Legislature for me,” she said.

Welsh said she wanted to thank citizens who have taken time to write to her, call her on the telephone or visit her in Augusta. Welsh said she also developed a lot of respect for legislators.

“Both Republicans and Democrats worked together in a collegial atmosphere,” she said.

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

filed under: