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Ross LaJeunesse On The Issues That Are Most Important To Maine Democrats

Courtesy Ross LaJeunesse campaign

There are currently four Democrats in Maine seeking their party’s nomination in next year’s U.S. Senate race. In recent weeks, Maine Public has talked with each of them about the issues that pollsters say are the most important to Maine Democrats.

Maine Public political correspondent Mal Leary spoke with Ross LaJeunesse about taxes, the opioid crisis and, of most concern to Democrats, health care.

LaJeunesse: I think the first thing to keep in mind is that as Democrats we are fairly united in our belief that every child, every person in this state and in this country should have access to affordable health care. Where we, maybe, take different positions or different stances is how do we get there. But it’s important to recognize that we all share the same goal first.

For me, I think that we need to build upon an existing system by repairing the Affordable Care Act, which the Republicans have been working very hard to dismantle, piece by piece, including provisions in that $1.5 trillion tax cut that Susan Collins voted for that stripped away key provisions of the Affordable Care Act. So we roll back all those Republican attempts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act. And then we build a system that invites those who want to participate in a Medicare-for-all system to do so.  We need to fill in the gaps for Jill, in some very common sense ways. And I believe the way to do that is expanding Medicare and opening it up for everyone who wants it.

Leary: And how do you pay for it?

Easy. First thing you do is you get rid of that $1.5 trillion tax cut that Susan Collins voted for. The vast majority of those benefits went to corporations and to the wealthiest Americans. They do not need that tax relief. So it takes about $1.5 trillion to pay for a Medicare-for-all-who-wanted system. We pay for it by rolling back those corporate tax cuts and the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. They don’t need them.

Maine Democrats are also very concerned about the tax structure being fair, or actually being unfair. You’ve touched on some of the parts of the Trump tax cut plan that came through. How do you make the tax system fairer for average Mainers?

One thing you do is you introduce a wealth tax. I believe we already have a wealth tax. It’s called property taxes. And you know who gets hit hardest by property taxes are working-class and middle-class Mainers. We need to expand that wealth tax to include a wider range of assets - and I’m only talking about a wealth tax on the richest Americans: those with assets of $50 million or more. It’s very similar to Elizabeth Warren’s plan. If you do that if you introduce a 2% tax on wealth above $50 million, and then a graduated higher tax as you increase your wealth, you can pay for a lot of things. You can pay for - again - health care for all Mainers; you can pay for a program that reduces the student debt load in Maine.

The third area that Maine Democrats are talking about is the opioid crisis.

Yeah, of course.

Part of that, of course, can be dealt with through the health plan. But what specifically do you think needs to be done for a rural state like ours to address the opioid crisis?

A couple things. We need to treat this like the crisis that it is. One model is - back in the 90s, I worked for Ted Kennedy. He did a lot of great things, including National Community Service, which is something that I think we need to reinvigorate in this country. But he also passed legislation that addressed the HIV AIDS crisis in a very real way, and in a way that funded research, funded treatment for the people on the front lines of that pandemic.

The interesting thing is that he got that passed working with Orrin Hatch, one of the most conservative members of the U.S. Senate. That’s the sort of approach we need to take to the opioid crisis, treat it as a national crisis - that it is - and adopt a program similar to what we did for the HIV AIDS crisis. We need to reach across the aisle because this hits everyone - rural, urban, black, white, people of every class - and it’s also part of a larger issue that we have in this state and in this country about addiction and mental health issues. One of the things I care the most about is achieving parity for mental health and recovery health care. You know, my dad is struggling with his own recovery right now. He’s a Vietnam veteran. And he is lucky enough that he is able to get services through the Veterans Administration. But there are lots of people dealing with, you know, with their own recovery, and they’re not getting the services and the help that they need.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Journalist Mal Leary spearheads Maine Public's news coverage of politics and government and is based at the State House.