Laura Fortman’s past government experience has been a labor of love. Fortman, 64, is a former Maine Commissioner of Labor. She also worked in the Obama Administration as a deputy administrator for the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division.
The Democrat works as a consultant primarily dealing with labor issues. She is challenging state Senator Dana Dow, R-Waldoboro, for the District 13 seat which includes Lincoln County along with Windsor, in Kennebec County, and Washington in Knox County.
Fortman believes her experience in government working on labor and women’s issues makes her well-suited to serve in the Legislature. “I bring an understanding of how government works and a recognition of how labor and women’s issues are interconnected to the economy,” she said.
As a legislator, she would draw heavily on her experience working for Governor John Baldacci and one president. In Augusta, Fortman led a 490-person department and served as chairman of the Governor's Workforce Cabinet. In Washington, D.C., she oversaw laws regarding 135 million workers for 7.3 million businesses in ensuring compliance with labor laws such as minimum wage, child welfare, and Social Security.
As labor commissioner, she described her management style as “lean and mean.” In developing a framework for economic development, she made education a major focus. Fortman assisted in the state securing a $14.7 million federal grant for linking economic and workforce development. She also assisted in forming a partnership between the Department of Labor and Maine Marine Trades Association. She also oversaw the department dealing with the Great Recession. Thousands of Mainers lost their jobs during the economic downturn, and the department assisted displaced workers by assessing their skills and aligning them with potential other areas of employment.
“When a plant closed I was there to meet the workers and helped them whether it was job training or making sure they could afford health care." During this time, the department developed the Competitive Skills Scholarship program which worked with businesses and created a pool of money for job training for high wage jobs.
Prior to her career in government, she worked for several women’s groups. She is a former executive director for the Maine’s Women’s Lobby and Maine Women’s Policy Center. She was also named to the Maine Women’s Hall of Fame in 2007 for her work assisting women recovering from domestic abuse. Fortman is a sexual assault survivor. As a University of New Hampshire student, she volunteered for the local 24-hour crisis center. She eventually became the crisis center’s first paid staff member. “One of the first things I learned was the legislature was not responsive to survivors' needs. I knew a couple things needed to happen. One was changing legislation, and two was getting the system working together.”
As a state senator, she would focus on economic justices issues — ending violence, anti-discrimination, health care, and financial security. Fortman describes these issues as having a major impact on people’s lives. “Having grown up working class and struggling, I’ve seen the impact of social challenges on people who don’t have the economic means or a voice in government. And I want to bring a voice to people who haven’t had a voice at the table,”she said.
During her campaign, Fortman said voters are fed up with the current Legislature and the recent number of voter initiative referendums indicate that disfavor. Fortman reported health care is the biggest concern she hears. She strongly supports the Medicaid expansion which voters approved in 2016 with over 60 percent of the vote. But in the last legislative session, lawmakers failed to implement the program which would provide insurance coverage for approximately 71,500 people. The state’s cost is an estimated $315 million over five years. Gov. LePage vetoed funding proposals he viewed as “unsustainable.”
Fortman believes Medicaid expansion will improve Mainers' access to health care and improve the economy. Maine would receive $500 million in federal funds as part of the program. “This is a 9:1 match and it would provide another 3,000 jobs and reduce the number of charity care. It’s good for Maine and this can be implemented through the regular budget process. This is one of many reasons why voters are so frustrated with the Legislature because they can’t work together and get things done.”
As a state senator, Fortman believes the Legislature needs to become more involved with several issues such as economic development, public education, and climate change. “State government has a role to play in assisting local communities in dealing with challenges,” she said. In economic development, Fortman supports state funding to expand rural broadband internet. She also wants state government to do more to retain and recruit young families.
In education, she wants the state government to assist local school districts and community colleges in creating more apprenticeships and internships for students training to become electricians, plumbers and other trades.
Climate change is another area where Fortman sees state government providing a hand to local communities. She described climate change as a real threat which the state hasn't taken seriously in recent years. "This is real and needs to be taken seriously. The state needs to partner with communities and prepare them for what is happening."
She sees state government as playing the role of a “convenor” connecting local communities with grants to help them seek broadband, affordable housing and climate change grants.
Fortman received a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of New Hampshire and a master’s degree in leadership from Northeastern University.
She and her husband live in Nobleboro.
This article has been updated from its original posting.