There are currently three Republicans seeking their party's nomination to challenge incumbent Democrat Jared Golden in this November's 2nd District Congressional contest. As part of our Your Vote 2020 election coverage Maine Public is asking each of them about the issues that pollsters have identified as being most important to Republican voters.
Senior Political Correspondent Mal Leary spoke with Adrienne Bennett, who served as Press Secretary to former Gov. Paul LePage about health care, the opioid crisis and — of most concern to Republicans — taxes and spending:
Bennett: With a $1.4 trillion budget, there are areas of spending that we can dig a little deeper into, and see if those are warranted necessities. As somebody who grew up in rural Maine and very poor, I understand the needs and wants, the issues that people have, the struggles that they have living from paycheck to paycheck. And we need to ensure that the government is being held accountable for its spending. I think Congress did a fantastic job along with President Trump with the tax cuts, and that is going to give us some relief for businesses and for individuals as well. But we need to tighten up that spending, and need to dig into a budget. And if you remember, when I was with the governor in his administration, we did dig into the budgets, and we held legislators accountable, and we marked what we thought was unwarranted spending. We had a Christmas tree go up in July, because we felt the Democrats thought that they were going to get Christmas in July, everything they wanted in a budget. And we weren't going to let that happen. But you have to be able to look at a budget that is thousands of pages, in many cases, and identify what is unnecessary.
Leary: What do you see as unnecessary or less important spending that could be cut so that you can further reduce taxes?
Bennett: Well, first, we have to take care of Mainers. We need to take care of our most vulnerable. We need to take care of our seniors. We've had six nursing homes close in Maine. That is unacceptable. And when we are giving general assistance or benefits or housing to people who are coming from out-of-state, if they are illegals or otherwise, we are not putting Mainers first. So our most vulnerable — our seniors, our veterans, those with disabilities — those are people of priority. And we need to make sure in our budget that it reflects those folks.
Leary: So you would support federal legislation that would limit that ability? Because obviously that's —
Bennett: It's on a federal level, correct.
Leary: — a state issue as well as a federal issue.
Bennett: But nursing homes get federal funding as well. And that is a huge issue here in Maine. And so that's something that I'm looking forward to tackling and making sure that I'm an advocate for our most vulnerable, including our seniors.
Leary: Part of the entire nursing home problem goes to health care. We spend huge amounts of money on health care, but we don't plan for long term care in terms of the elderly. But we also don't do a lot of things in prevention. If we still have a situation where, in Medicare, there are some preventative type procedures they don't cover, even though it would save money in the long run. How do you address that issue of people who say ‘we've got to have affordable health care, but it's also good to cover this sort of stuff?’
Bennett: You know, we have been tackling this issue for decades, and we haven't got it right. Obamacare was a disaster, and we have a president, finally, who is trying to get at it from a different angle. And transparency and prices and an open market and things like that are going to help us. If we are looking for market-based solutions, if we are looking for more affordability and accessibility for people, then we need to give the power to the people in that regard. We do need to make some significant changes. And it's going to take a ton of work. But again, we have to dig into these issues. We need to find the solutions, identify, and I think our president is doing a good job in his first term. There's still much more work to do, of course, though. And the affordability — I hear it when I'm out visiting with people and families every single day. They don't know how they are going to pay for their insurance. And so price transparency, I think is a huge piece to it. And taking on the pharmaceutical companies, making sure that prescription drugs are affordable. We need to ensure this for our people.
Leary: Kind of a subset of this issue is the opioid crisis. Everybody knows somebody ,either directly in their family or friend, who's been hit by this crisis. What is the role, the federal government in trying to solve it?
Bennett: You know, we need to have a broader conversation, and we need to give states the flexibility to tackle it on their own. And that needs to be a multi-pronged approach. Governor LePage, when I was in the administration, I worked with then-Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price and Kellyanne Conway when they came to Maine, and we had an opioid task force roundtable, we talked about the issues that were impacting us. Since I've been on the campaign trail, I've met with five different sheriffs from Penobscot County, Oxford County, Hancock County, and the the issue stems, not only on the the opioid crisis — and, you know, that's that's a huge problem we have — but also mental health. And that's an issue we need to tackle, have a broader conversation about, and be able to have the willingness to talk about depression, anxiety, PTSD amongst our veterans and just general population. It's all intertwined. And the federal government needs to assist the states in making sure that they have the flexibility to take on this issue appropriately from a law enforcement standpoint, from a preventative and education standpoint. So they're all factors there.
Leary: Adrian Bennett, thank you very much for taking some time to talk with us.
Bennett: Thank you, Mal. It's always a pleasure.
To learn more about ALL OF the candidates in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District and in other races, follow Your Vote coverage with Maine Public
Ed note: interview has been edited for length and clarity
Originally published 4:05 p.m. March 11, 2020