An interview with the candidate
The Penobscot Bay Pilot asked Heather “Betsy” Garrold a series of questions to illuminate her background and find out what she believes. Here are her answers to those questsions.
Why you are running for political office?
I grew up in Searsport and graduated from Searsport District High School and the University of Southern Maine. I spent a decade out of state for graduate school, uniformed service in the US Public Health Service, and faculty practice at Case Western Reserve University. I came home to Maine in 1999 with my son to homestead in Knox.
Since retiring from my practice as a Nurse Midwife I have been active in the movement to re-localize the food system to Maine and especially Waldo County. After working on the team that got the Right to Food Constitutional Amendment passed in November 2021, I felt the need to expand my advocacy to elected office and made the choice to run for the open House seat in the newly created District #38.
What are the three most pressing issues facing Maine, as a state, today, and how would you like to see them resolved?
I have jokingly said my platform is “PFAS and potholes”, but really those are two major issues that relate to local food production and the climate crisis we are facing. The contaminated farmland in my district is harming farmers, polluting wells and damaging property values. The farmers and land owners need to be made whole from their losses. I think there is plenty of blame to go around and the state has started some tentative steps to help those caught up in the midst of this crisis but more needs to be done. We need to expand on those efforts and make sure the fund does not run out of money before everyone is helped.
The “Potholes” piece goes back to this spring when I was at the nine town meetings in my district hearing hair-raising stories of roads that were impassable to ambulances and the mail truck this winter into the spring. This points to the need to address the climate we now have, not the one we wish we had. When we are doing road work, we need to put in 100-year culverts not 50-year culverts, because the rain events we are going to continue to get in our shoulder seasons are going to be what we think of as 100-year events. And the third issue, of course, is the continuing work to support local food producers in feeding the people of Maine. A friend of mine has a saying that we produce all the calories we need in Maine as long as all you want to eat is lobster, blueberries and potatoes. We need to readjust our agricultural economy to include not just big commodity crops but the “speciality” crops that most people eat. As the supply chain frays more and more, we need to be able to feed ourselves more locally. The work to support that has begun in the legislature but I will continue it when I am in Augusta.
Maine is grappling with a housing shortage, and legislation has been crafted — and passed last year — at the Maine Legislature to try and ease the situation by allowing greater density in all municipalities. Those municipalities now are analyzing this new state rule to understand how it applies to local zoning ordinances. Do you think this was an appropriate law to pass?
I think increasing housing density is a good place to start but we need to address the fact that short term rentals and corporate ownership of housing stock are large contributors to the shortage of affordable rentals in many cities across the state.
Do you have other ideas, and proposals, to help ease the housing problem?
An increase in taxes on second and third homes is something that should be explored and carefully instituted. So as not to unduly burden those residents with an “up-to-camp” but not allow institutional investors to scarf up all the available housing and rent it back to the local residence for unaffordable prices.
What legislative committees would you like to serve on and why?
Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry is definitely the committee I have spent the most time testifying in front of and interacting with and is the one that has the biggest impact on my rural district. My next choice would be State and Local Government. I feel like that is one of the committees where the rubber really meets the road and being a total policy nerd, I think it would be a fascinating committee on which to serve.
Maine’s economy relies on small and micro-businesses. How will you help the entrepreneur succeed in this state?
The work I have done getting the Local Food Sovereignty Ordinance passed in over 110 towns and cities across the state is a prime example of allowing local municipalities to control the economy – and especially the food system – within their own borders. Maine is fortunate to have a home rule clause in it’s constitution that allows for this sort of ultra-local economic development.
What are the greatest economic, cultural and social strengths in your district, and how will you support them?
Community is what keeps this rural district going. Neighbors watching out for neighbors. I have had many interesting discussions with my future constituents as I have been out knocking on doors around the eight and a half towns in District #38. Over and over again I hear “we take care of each other around here…I might not agree with my neighbors politics but if they need me I am there for them and them for me.” This to me is the biggest strength we can have in these uncertain times.
What are the greatest problems in your district, and how do you intend to address them?
Again I say the PFAS tragedy and the ongoing need to plan our infrastructure to meet the continuing climate changes we are experiencing. I think that the biggest thing I can contribute is the foresight to realize we can not fix generational problems with 5-year plans and 2-year funding. We need to get beyond that short-term thinking and make plans that can survive the changing winds of politics.
Do you support construction of the 145-mile Central Maine Power transmission line from Quebec to Massachusetts?
The Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services recently received funding from lawmakers to fund five public defenders to travel the state representing indigent defendants. Its executive director says that this is “not a solution, it’s a patch” and that the agency needs an estimated $51 million to open public defender offices in all 16 counties. Should the legislature be looking to fund more public defenders?
I think this is a prime example of what I was referring to above. A bandaid solution to a problem that needs surgical intervention. Especially right now when we have the financial resources due to the windfall Covid moneys from the federal government. Let’s use some of that money to open those 16 offices.
At least four county jails in Maine have combined to record nearly 1,000 phone calls between jailed defendants and their attorneys.
What action would you like to see the legislature and governor take to ensure this never again happens?
This is appalling. The legislature should consult with the aggrieved attorneys and clients and write a piece of legislation that ensures that privacy between lawyer and client is always respected regardless of the clients location.
Maine is one of 16 states that does not offer parole after abolishing it in 1976. Should the state reinstate the possibility of parole?
I have to admit this is not an issue I am particularly conversant with but I know the current and former legislators who have been working on this issue and I will be consulting with them for their best advice on how to move forward.
There is a statewide shortage of nurses willing to work at nursing homes and assisted living facilities. What more should the state be doing to attract workers?
Help with student debt would be a good place to start. I came out of my undergraduate education less than $10,000 in debt and out of my graduate program with just a little over $20,000 in debt. Those days are long gone and we need to do something about that. A program that offers debt forgiveness for nursing graduates from the Maine University System if they work 5 years in underserved areas of the state (including nursing homes) would be one easy way to attract nurses to those locations and jobs.
What is your position on abortion?
I am a believer in bodily autonomy. No one should be forced to carry a pregnancy that they do not wish to carry. No one should be mandated to get a medical treatment they do not wish to have. It is all the same basic principle.
As a retired Nurse Midwife I see pregnancy termination as one of the medical procedures in the tool box of anyone offering medical care to women of childbearing age. We are fortunate here in Maine to have the good sense to leave this decision between the woman and her care provider. It should stay that way.
The Maine Dept. of Transportation is focusing more on active transportation (bike and pedestrian, as well as public transportation). How would you like to see this implemented in your district?
There has been some expansion of the public transportation buses that run throughout the district. We need to fund and expand those bus runs.
The bike lanes in the bigger towns are great. It would be nice if we spent some time improving the “soft shoulders” of the rural roads so that they are safer for bikers.
What is your position on Gov. Janet Mills’ energy policy?
Moving toward more renewable energy sources is a good direction but we need to move more quickly. And the current electric utility companies need to be held responsible when they are obstructive of solar and wind energy projects which is something I have seen in my own district. A publicly owned electric grid would be a good place to start.
If a voter expressed concern to you about voting security in Maine, how would you respond?
As a former voter registrar and poll warden, and the sister and daughter of dedicated poll workers in other towns in the county, I can assure anyone who has concerns that they are groundless. The poll workers of this state are fair, impartial and dedicated to making sure that elections happen in a secure and democratic way. And with our voting machines that have a verifiable paper trail there are plenty of checks and balances to assure that this will continue to be true.
What is your position on gun control?
I think that we need better background checks for gun purchases. I also think we need to explore the mandating of liability insurance for gun owners. This would insure the interest of the powerful insurance lobby in assuring that guns are owned, stored and used responsibly.
What is your vision of Maine in 20 years?
I see Maine as an island of sustainability in a sea of continuous chaos. If we can feed ourselves and provide for most of our other basic needs then we will be sitting pretty as the slow motion climate catastrophe unrolls itself. We, as policy makers, need to work now to assure the programs are in place to make this bright future happen.
Is there anything else you want voters to know about you or your vision not addressed through this questionnaire?
I would just like to highlight my legislative experience. Although I have not yet held elected office, I have for the last twelve years, spent a lot of time in the statehouse working on food issues along with some governmental and educational issues. I can hit the ground running because I know how to get legislation passed – which makes me the best choice for representing the people of District #38 in Augusta. Hope I can count on your votes.