Sen. Dow promotes solutions over rhetoric in restoring Maine economy

Businessman, former school teacher seeking another term in Maine senate
Wed, 10/10/2018 - 11:15am

In 2016, Dana Dow’s return to the state senate returned control to the Republican party. Dow, a former two-term senator, defeated Democratic incumbent Chris Johnson 12,131 to 10,909 which gave the GOP an 18-17 majority. Dow owns Dow Furniture and Dow Discount in Waldoboro. He also taught chemistry and physics at Medomak Valley High School.

He is seeking re-election this November against Democratic challenger Laura Fortman of Nobleboro who is a former Maine Commissioner of Labor. Dow and Fortman are seeking election in District 13 which encompasses Lincoln County and the towns of Windsor, in Kennebec, and Washington, in Knox counties.

Dow was first elected to two terms in the state senate in 2004 and 2006. He decided against seeking re-election in 2008 to spend more time at his business during the recession. In 2011, he returned to the legislature as a House of Representatives member.

Dow believes his experience as a businessman and his bipartisan approach would serve District 13 voters well. Last session, Senate President Mike Thibodeau made Dow chairman of the Taxation Committee. As chairman, Dow followed a lesson he learned during his previous legislative service. In 2011, Dow urged his fellow legislators to become more congenial and better acquainted with opposing party members. In a speech, he jokingly referred to “National Take A Legislator from the Opposite Side of the Aisle to Lunch Day.” And his fellow legislators accepted the Waldoboro Republican’s challenge.

“The problem was legislators weren’t taking the time getting to know each other. And it worked so well, legislators started eating in larger bi-partisan groups and made speeches in-session how they renamed ‘The Red Barn,’ ‘The Blue Barn’ for one day toward promoting greater cooperation,” he said.

In 2018, his leadership skills proved essential in bringing a deeply divided legislature together. With Republicans holding the Blaine House and one-seat senate majority, and Democrats controlling the House of Representatives by a five-seat margin, lawmakers had a difficult time agreeing to anything. The legislature grappled with implementing a state referendum calling for a 3 percent surtax on incomes over $250,000 for more  state subsidies in public education and funding Medicaid expansion.

Tax conformity was another contentious battle which divided Democrats and Republicans and eventually ended with overwhelming support in both legislative chambers. In 2017, the U.S. Congress passed an extensive tax reform bill. In 2018, the legislature approved a compromise bill which aligned Maine's tax code with federal tax changes. If the Legislature hadn’t enacted legislation conforming state and federal tax codes, Dow said it would’ve created hardships on every taxpayer. “Nobody would’ve been able to fill out any tax forms. It would’ve required businesses to keep two sets of books. So it was important to find a compromise solution to this,” Dow said.

Thibodeau appointed a special four-person senate committee to consider tax conformity. Thibodeau nominated  himself, Dow and Democratic Sen. Nate Libby and House Taxation Committee Chairman Ryan Tipping-Spitz. The quartet crafted a compromise which passed 35-0. But the tax conformity bill languished in the House of Representatives. “It sat in the House, as legislators knowing it was important legislation attached spending packages until it finally passed in September 111-0,” he said. “Playing politics, that’s not me. I like getting stuff done, and compromise is how to do just that.”

If re-elected, Dow wants to improve Maine’s economy. The state’s unemployment rate fell below 3 percent this year which is the lowest since 1976. Despite record low unemployment, Dow isn’t convinced the Maine economy is thriving.

“The one thing I know about the Maine economy is it’s always in recession. Statistics show Maine and New Hampshire have roughly the same population, but we sell only one-third the cars. And it’s been that way for a long time.”

Dow points toward a 40-year plus decline in kindergarten through grade 12 enrollment as a telling sign of the state’s poor economic performance. In the 1970s, Maine had approximately 240,000 students. Today, the number is around 180,000, according to Dow.

He blames a lack of economic opportunity for why young families leave. “The economy ties into everything and that’s why I’m running,” Dow said. “They’re leaving because they can’t find a good paying job.”

He also cited a 2011 Irving Oil Co. study about the costs of doing business in Maine and New Hampshire. The study examined set-up costs, licenses and  taxes. The study showed it costs Irving $60,000 over a three-year period to set up a Maine location, compared to $20,000 in New Hampshire.

“We need to do more than just cutting taxes. The cost of doing business in Maine has been a problem for quite a while. That's why so many businesses leave," he said.

Dow sees improved broadband access as a key component in economic development. He wants the state to provide investment funds or low-interest loans for rural communities to invest in broadband infrastructure. He also believes the state’s tax structure works against economic growth. He believes Maine should adopt a long range economic development plan. Dow also points to reducing taxes as an important part of reviving the Maine economy.  “Broadband hasn’t been a priority, but it should be. Once the legislature makes it a priority it will happen,” he said.

Dow recounted how two states used tax cuts in an attempt to promote economic development. Kansas instituted cuts all at once. And North Carolina did it over time. “It was a disaster in Kansas, but North Carolina did it right. They have increased their population by over 950,000. In Maine, we need to develop a 10-20 year long range plan where we set priorities for creating economic growth.”

In January, legislators will continue seeking a funding mechanism for Medicaid expansion. In 2017, Maine voters overwhelmingly approved Medicaid expansion in a referendum vote. Medicaid expansion would provide insurance coverage for approximately 71,500 people. The state’s cost is an estimated $315 million over five years. But Gov. LePage vetoed funding proposals he viewed as “unsustainable. ”

Dow believes the solution lies in both sides reaching a compromise. “It’s like everything else. We will find a solution once both sides agree to give up a little bit."

In the past legislative session, Dow was the only Republican to receive a 100 percent Maine Conservation Voting rating. He received a 100 percent rating from Maine Right to Life and a 64 percent National Rifle Association rating.

Dow earned a bachelor of science degree in education from the University of Southern Maine in 1973. He has previously served on the Waldoboro Planning Board, the Board of Directors for First National Bank and the Board of Directors for both Maine School Administrative District 40 in Waldoboro and Region 8 in Rockland. Dow and his wife Lisa live in Waldoboro and attend Waldoboro United Methodist Church. Together, they have four children and two grandchildren.