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by Jessica Brophy
The two men running for the State House of Representatives District 36 seat—which includes Brooklin, Deer Isle, Isle au Haut and Stonington, among other towns—both share an interest in the welfare of the fishing industry and the communities it supports.
Walter Kumiega III is the incumbent Democrat who has served two years as Representative. A self-employed carpenter, Kumiega and his family have lived in Deer Isle for 18 years.
Kim Strauss is the Republican challenger for the seat. He and his wife Charlene live in Bass Harbor. Strauss owns a boatyard, runs nature cruises with his son Eli and captains a ferry boat to Frenchboro, Long Island.
Regulating the fishing industry
Given the abnormally low boat prices experienced by lobstermen this summer, the candidates were asked during recent interviews whether they believe some agent of the State of Maine should have the ability to temporarily shut down the lobster industry during an economic crisis.
Strauss said his initial reaction is no. “The industry belongs to fishermen, and they should decide for themselves,” said Strauss. Any decision that is made about a potential shut down would need to be “fishermen-driven” he continued.
Kumiega said the idea might work, but he would be uncomfortable with resting the power to suspend the industry in one person, like the Department of Marine Resources Commissioner. “I would be more comfortable with a commission, like the milk commission, rather than the authority sitting with one individual,” said Kumiega.
Kumiega said he wasn’t convinced having the ability to suspend the industry is a good idea. “In reality, lobstermen are grownups,” he added.
In terms of other potential regulations aimed to improve the health of the lobster industry, neither Strauss nor Kumiega have a specific agenda.
Kumiega, too, thinks that any changes in regulation need to come from the fishermen rather than from Augusta.
“I’m happy to help, to facilitate,” said Kumiega. “And once it gets to that point, I’m happy to make sure the law is written correctly to make sure it doesn’t create more problems than it solves.”
Strauss said the good ideas he has heard over the past several months have come from fishermen. One such idea he has heard is to increase the gauge size for part of the year, perhaps from Memorial Day to Labor Day, as a way to slow down landings during the peak season, with the hope that the price per pound increases.
Strauss also thinks processing is a good idea in terms of jobs, but doesn’t see more local processing as improving the boat price to fishermen, as a processor’s goal is to pay low prices for lobster to process.
Improving Internet access and service
Internet access and quality of service is a concern for many of the communities in District 36. Some pockets still use dial-up and have no access to high-speed Internet; other areas such as Deer Isle and Stonington struggle with quality of service.
Both candidates were asked whether Internet service is necessary for economic health and whether they would support measures to improve service in rural areas.
The candidates agree that Internet service is an important part of Maine’s economic health.
Strauss said his primary focus is the fishing industry and that this kind of problem requires focus and information-gathering. Strauss said he would seek out other legislators with knowledge of the issue and work closely with them.
“I don’t care what party they come from, if they know what they’re talking about,” said Strauss, who said he would be more than happy to share his expertise of and connections to the commercial fisheries with any legislator as well.
Kumiega said the state has made a lot of progress in terms of updating the capacity and infrastructure statewide, but the problem is the “last mile,” or getting that improved service to Mainers living in rural areas.
Kumiega praised the efforts of ConnectME, a program dedicated to improving connectivity.
One potential solution, said Kumiega, is to push for the Internet to be regulated like other public utilities such as electricity or telephone service. “It’s kind of a heavy handed approach, but it needs to be part of the conversation [with Internet service providers],” said Kumiega, who hopes that leaving that option on the table might prompt more effort on the part of the companies to improve access and service.
Transparency and accountability in government
Both candidates were asked how accountable public officials should be to the public. More specifically, both candidates responded to the question of what they would do—or have done—to ensure accountability and connection to the people the candidates would represent.
Kumiega said Maine has a strong Sunshine Law (meetings are open to the public) and a good Freedom of Access law as well. Kumiega said he has voted once in favor of increased transparency and once against a bill that would have exempted some of the governor’s working papers from Freedom of Access requests.
Kumiega says he personally maintains a Facebook page where constituents often get in touch with him, as well as an email address. “Getting out into the community is important, too,” he said. “In Maine we’re lucky enough to have small districts where you really can knock on most every door.”
For Strauss, an important part of maintaining his connection to his constituents is to take only small donations. “I’ve been approached by [political action committees] and different groups,” said Strauss. “If I go to Augusta, I’m not going to be accountable to any group, just everyone I represent.”
One of his goals, if elected, is to set up a website for lobstermen with a discussion forum to help fishermen stay up-to-date on any potential legislation. It would also allow fishermen from different zones to talk to one another.