On the issues: U.S. Congressional Candidate Chellie Pingree

Wed, 10/14/2020 - 8:15am

    Penobscot Bay Pilot has posed questions to each candidate running for U.S. Congressional seats, providing the opportunity for the public to better understand their position on issues important to the state and nation.

    Candidates responding with their individual written answers will have their responses stored in the Pilot’s 2020 Election Resource Guide.

    Chellie Pingree, Democrat, is seeking reelection to represent Maine’s First Congressional District.

    What are Maine’s greatest strengths, and how do you hope to support them?

    Two of Maine's greatest strengths are its people and its natural environment. To support Maine people, we need to have a strong economy and workforce, where small businesses are allowed to thrive, workers are paid a fair and living wage and have all the workplace protections afforded to them, and for those unable to work, that they have access to affordable housing, food, health care and other critical services. But to achieve that, we must slow the coronavirus pandemic and provide relief to Mainers as we work to rebuild our economy.

    To support our environment, we must always protect Maine's clean air, water and land, and we must immediately address the climate crisis. Maine's economy and our livelihoods depend on our natural environment, and I support policies to protect our environment and combat climate change.

    What are the greatest problems to address in Maine, and how do you intend to address them?

    The most immediate challenge facing Maine right now is the coronavirus pandemic, which is a massive public health threat and wreaking havoc on our economy. I’m disappointed in the complete lack of the leadership out of the Trump administration to take any meaningful action to help Americans who are suffering. The US House has taken bold action multiple times to rush relief to the American people, work to defeat the pandemic and get our economy back on track, but leaders in the Senate and the White House continue to stall, spread misinformation and ignore the threat.

    The other major challenge facing us is the threat of man-made climate change. We’re already seeing the catastrophic effects of the crisis here in Maine. We rely on our state’s natural resources for food, fishing, recreation, tourism, and so much more, and our economy and way of life is under threat if we don’t take action to become carbon neutral, transition to a green economy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

    What have you heard from Mainers during your campaign? What are their biggest concerns?

    Mainers are most concerned with keeping their families healthy and safe while having the means to pay the bills, put food on the table and live a normal life. Everyone wants to get our lives back to where they were — going to work and sending their children to school safely, seeing friends and family without any worries, traveling, and so much more — and they are so disappointed that after eight months, our president and his administration continue to play down the pandemic, spread misinformation and do little to slow the virus while more than 200,000 Americans have died, millions have fallen ill, and regular Mainers continue to suffer economically.

    How will you protect and enhance Maine as spending bills are hammered out in Washington?

    As a member of the House Appropriations Committee, which is directly responsible for passing spending bills through Congress, I am able to directly advocate for Maine, and I've fought to expand opportunities for working families, protect our veterans, better fund education and training, and protect our environment.

    How should Maine approach the need for more workforce housing, as well as re-entry housing for the formerly incarcerated, and emergency shelter for those suffering through extended power outages?

    Mainers deserve affordable and adequate housing, but our state can't do it alone. The federal government must provide assistance to states and local communities to help renters and homeowners afford to stay in their homes, while providing for those who are experiencing homelessness with the opportunities to access affordable housing. That means lowering the barriers to obtain affordable housing, whether or not you've been incarcerated, increasing assistance for those who need it, additional federal grants for organizations helping low-income people find affordable housing, funding for emergency housing for those who need it during natural disasters or storms, as well as increasing the minimum wage so that Mainers can earn a fair housing wage.

    On what committees would you like to serve, and why?

    I currently serve on a number of House committees and subcommittees, including the House Committee on Appropriations and the Subcommittees on Agriculture, Rural Development; Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies; Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies; and Military Construction and Veterans Affairs. I also serve on the House Committee on Agriculture and the Subcommittees on Biotechnology, Horticulture; and Research, and Conservation and Forestry.

    As mentioned above, I'm fortunate to serve on the Appropriations committee, which oversees spending for so many programs that directly affect Mainers' lives, including veterans and the military, child care, agriculture and more.

    I truly enjoy my work on the Agriculture committee because, as an organic farmer, I know how important food, farming and agriculture are to Maine’s economy and our way of life. This includes everything from food assistance and hunger relief, like the SNAP and school meals programs, to policies that affect Maine’s farmers and fisherman to reducing food waste. The country has rarely been more polarized. How will you work to counter this trend? Not too long ago, bipartisanship was an ideal to strive for, but today our country seems more divided than ever. In Congress, I've worked hard to put aside partisan differences to work with both parties to find consensus on the issues that matter so much to Mainers, like access to health care, creating a better, fairer economy, and protecting our environment. Many of us, Republicans, Democrats and independents, really all want the same outcomes; we just have different approaches. But the truth is, right now, we have a president who has made it a priority
    to divide, sow chaos, create distrust in our government, and stoke the worst elements of our society. Time after time, he's proven that he's incapable of unifying our country and being the leader America needs at this trying moment. Ultimately, I truly believe once Donald Trump leaves office, we can work to repair the damage he's done so that the country can finally come together to tackle the problems we're facing.

    What is your position on the Trump Administration’s recent opening up of the Arctic to fossil fuel drilling, a move that, according to the New York Times, “overturns six decades of protections for the largest remaining stretch of wilderness in the United States”?

    There are significant environmental and economic risks involved in fossil fuel drilling. I’m very concerned about its impact on protected areas like the Alaska wilderness and our coastlines. I oppose oil and gas development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and voted in favor of HR 1146, the Arctic Cultural and Coastal Plain Protection Act, which would repeal a provision in the Republican tax bill that permitted two lease sales of about 400,000 acres of oil and gas development in ANWR for the first time.

    I also support HR 341, the COAST Anti-Drilling Act, which would ban offshore oil and gas drilling in the Atlantic Ocean, Straits of Florida, and Eastern Gulf of Mexico, and prohibit the Interior Department from issuing leases for the exploration, development, or production of oil or gas in these areas.

    Should federal land (and seas) be leased for privately-owned industrial and agricultural use?

    Our federal land and waterways are an important natural resource that we must protect for future generations. I have serious concerns about leasing both federal land and waters to privately owned industries whose only motivation is to their bottom line and not what is best for our environment.

    How should Maine protect its natural resources?

    Maine's natural environment must be a top priority, and we must do everything we can to enact policies to protect it. That means not only supporting efforts to protect our clear air, water and lands, but also aggressively combat the climate crisis. To avoid a major, irreversible catastrophe, we must take bold action to become carbon neutral no later than 2050.

    I've introduced multiple bills to address climate change, and have co-sponsored over 80 additional pieces of legislation to address the climate crisis, protect our oceans and coastlines, build a green economy, support our farmers while creating a more sustainable food system, reduce emissions, address public health concerns exacerbated by climate change, promote renewable energy, support climate education, research, and planning, and protect our natural resources.

    Maine’s economy relies on small and micro-businesses. How will you help the entrepreneur succeed in this state, especially given the pandemic?

    As a small business owner, I know all too well the joys — and hardships — that come with owning and running a small business. I'm fortunate to serve as the co-chair of the Congressional Small Business Caucus, and from my seat on the House Appropriations Committee, I've been an advocate for funding for the Small Business Administration, including Small Business Development Centers, Women's Business Centers, microloans, and SCORE.

    During the pandemic, I've been active in response efforts to provide relief to Maine's small businesses through the CARES Act, which included grants to Maine small businesses as well as the Payment Protection Program that has helped many small businesses, farmers, fisherman, arts organizations, and more keep their doors open. I also supported the HEROES Act which would provide another round of PPP loans and other grants to small businesses here in Maine, as well as significant funding provided by the RESTAURANTS Act and Save Our Stages Act to provide funding to local restaurants and live venues.

    What is your position on law enforcement reform?

    I support our brave men and women in law enforcement, but the recent high-profile incidents of police brutality, abuse of power, and murders of innocent and unarmed Black people have underscored the need for oversight and reform. Since 2013, police officers in the United States have shot and killed nearly 1,000 people every year, and Black men are three times more likely to be killed by the police than their white peers. Recent protests have helped reignite the discussion on the need to address and dismantle the well-documented problem of police brutality toward the Black community.

    Some of the bills I've supported to help rectify this problem include H.R. 7120, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, that would improve police accountability, mandate police training on racial bias, ban chokeholds, limit the transfer of military-grade equipment to state and local law enforcement, and H.R. 7085, the Ending Qualified Immunity Act that would help victims of police violence seek justice under the law.

    Do you believe that Roe vs. Wade should be a protected law? If so, how will you ensure that women across the U.S. will retain their right choose whether to have an abortion, or not.

    Yes, Roe v. Wade is the law of the land, but in light of the changes in the makeup of the Supreme Court, a woman's constitutional right to choose is under threat. We can and should codify Roe v. Wade. The Women’s Health Protection Act would protect the constitutional right to an abortion by ensuring that providers have the right to provide, and patients have the right to receive, abortion services free from medically unnecessary restrictions.

    What are your thoughts on Maine's response to the pandemic?

    Maine has fared better than many other states in its response to the pandemic. State leaders and public health officials have made some tough decisions that have helped to keep infection rates low and Mainers safe and healthy while working to stem the economic impact of the pandemic. Maine absolutely needs relief from the federal government to deal with the revenue shortfalls to ensure that state and local governments have the resources to continue day-to-day operations, like funding first responders, teachers, and essential workers. That's why I've voted in favor of legislation, including the most recent HEROES Act that would provide approximately $820 million for the state of Maine and $779 million for Maine localities.

    Maine is a predominantly white state. How should Maine communities, and individuals, address systemic racism?

    Systemic racism has perpetuated long standing disparities between Americans in the areas of education, employment, housing, health care, environmental issues, and more. We must recognize and reform systems that disadvantage or exclude Black Americans and other people of color.

    I have cosponsored over 30 bills that would explicitly work to dismantle systems of injustice in our nation, and improve outcomes for members of the Black community and other people of color.

    Our education and health care systems also reflect and perpetuate racism and injustice, and I was pleased to vote in favor of both the Strength in Diversity Act and the Equity and Inclusion Enforcement Act, which would address socioeconomic and racial segregation in schools. I’m also a proud cosponsor of H.R. 6637, the Health Equity and Accountability Act, which would address a wide range of failures to provide equal and equitable health care to BIPOC Americans.

    What steps need to be taken to ensure there is no repeat scrambling to protect absentee voting through the Postal Service in future mid-term and general elections?

    No voter should ever have to choose between their health and safety and their fundamental right to vote. We must reform and strengthen our voting laws to ensure that every eligible voter is able to cast a ballot safely and with confidence, whether that is in person or by mail. That means restoring the protections under the Voting Rights Act that were stripped away by the Supreme Court, and fully funding the USPS.

    Earlier this year, I voted in favor of the CARES Act that provided $400 million for grants to states to help with early voting and vote-by-mail, due to the pandemic, and the House-passed Heroes Act that would provide $3.6 billion more. Of that, Maine would receive $29.7 million under the Heroes Act, yet the Republican-led Senate has blocked consideration of this funding. I also support a number of election reform bills that would strengthen our election systems and our democracy, including H.R. 1, For The People Act which would block illicit foreign political activity online, among other campaign reforms; H.R. 2722, the Secure America's Federal Elections (SAFE) Act, to provide funding to protect U.S. election systems, require the use of
    paper ballots, and defend against foreign hacking and attacked; and H.R. 4, the Voting Rights Advancement Act to reverse the Supreme Court's 2013 decision in order to allow DOJ once again to review states' behavior for voting discrimination, which DOJ would be required to clear.

    Do they think the media has done a good job or a poor job of informing the public about the pandemic?

    I believe many in the media have attempted to do their best to inform the public about the pandemic, but given the chaotic national response and blatant lies and misinformation from the Trump administration, the media's job has been harder than ever. If you couple that with some major outlets acting as a defacto state media operation, parroting talking points and pandering to Donald Trump's ego, we've ended up with millions of Americans sick and hundreds of thousands needlessly dead. Many of us in Congress have been sounding the alarm for months, trusting our scientists and public health officials, and right now, the consensus is that to stem the community spread among regular Americans, we must wear masks, remain socially distant, practice proper hand hygiene, and get tested if we're showing signs of infection or been in contact with someone who is sick.

    Do you think the media has treated candidates from all parties equally and fairly this election cycle?

    Despite what we hear coming out of the White House about "fake news" on a daily basis, I believe the vast majority of well-respected media organizations are doing their best to fairly report on the election. The larger problem lies with the information bubbles that many people live in today, exacerbated by social media, that tend to increase polarization and where misinformation and conspiracy theories thrive. Social media companies must do better to combat the spread misinformation within their platforms.

    What does the U.S. need to do become "great again," since some nations now see us at risk of failing our democracy?

    The notion of "great again" is quite a loaded term. For many, it conjures up a time when women couldn't vote or have safe medical care, when Black Americans were terrorized and lynched, when members of the LGBTQ community couldn't marry the person they loved. "Great again" is a fictitious and pollyannaish concept rooted in the worst elements of American history. Right now America is facing a challenge to our democratic institutions, but we can, and must, salvage that precarious notion that all people are created equal and we all have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. As we seek progress, we must reform these democratic institutions to ensure those who are eligible to vote can without restriction, that our representative government isn't ruled by a small minority seeking the interests of the wealthy few, and that everyone — no matter their race, religion, gender identity, immigration status, or income — have the same protections and opportunity afforded to every person in our country.

    How will you ensure that you build a strong voice in Washington, D.C., and represent Mainers, not lobbyists nor party politics.

    There's no greater honor than to represent Maine in Congress, and I've worked incredibly hard in Washington to fight for Mainers' best interests. Mainers know that my offices are always open (now mostly virtually during the pandemic) and I'm always meeting with regular Mainers, small business owners, veterans, members of the military and so many others who talk to me and my staff about their priorities and the issues facing them. I prioritize constituent services so that Mainers have a strong advocate when they need help with the federal government. And I come back home to Maine every single opportunity that I get so I can meet with Mainers directly. To reduce the influence of big money interests, one of my top priorities is overhauling our campaign finance system and overturning the Citizen United decision, which will significantly reduce the influence that lobbyists, special interests and the unchecked flood of money have over Washington politicians and our democratic institutions.