Three candidates – Michael Flaherty, Charles Skold, and Barbara Wood – are running for the Democratic Party nomination July 14 in Maine House District 38. The Portland West End seat is currently held by Majority Leader Matt Moonen, who is prevented by term limits from seeking reelection.
Wood, 65, has been a resident of the district, where she lives with her partner, for 35 years. She served on the City Council from 1988-1991 and was recognized by EqualityMaine as the first openly gay or lesbian elected official in the state. She left the council to pursue a career at L.L. Bean, where she worked for 30 years before retiring.
Wood is a founding member of EqualityMaine, served on its board for 35 years, and is the vice president of the EqualityMaine Foundation. She is president of the board of the Equality Community Center and is a board member of cPort Credit Union and the West End Neighborhood Association. She also volunteers as a driver with the Independent Transportation Network, and holds a master’s degree in education from the University of Maine.
Skold, 30, is a first-time candidate for elected office. He has experience in advocacy, activism and volunteering on campaigns, and has been endorsed by Run for Something, a national progressive group that supports younger, neophyte candidates who have a progressive vision for the future.
Skold went to high school in Freeport and attended the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and Harvard Divinity School. He has lived in Portland since 2019 and moved in January to his current apartment in the district, where he lives with his partner. He works for a program at Harvard that helps mayors respond to the coronavirus.
Flaherty was born and raised in Portland. He graduated from Cheverus High School in 2013 and studied finance as an undergraduate at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He is entering his final year of law school at the University of Maine School of Law and has held internships at the law firm of Cloutier, Conley and Duffett, and at the Maine Office of the Public Advocate. He works as a barback at Taco Escobar, and his political experience includes assisting on Jon Gale’s campaign for district attorney in 2018.
Why are you running? What do you hope to accomplish in the Legislature?
Wood said she has always thought she would return to public office after she retired.
“I enjoy the work, I think I’m good at the work, and I think that I have good decision making to improve the quality of life for the people in Maine and the people in this district,” she said.
She said she would like to serve on the Labor and Housing Committee, to work on issues of workforce fairness and improved wages and benefits. She believes her experience at L.L. Bean, where she was recognized with a leadership award, has prepared her for that work.
Wood said she also wants to join the Transportation Committee so she can help the state reduce its carbon emissions, particularly auto emissions, by increasing public transportation. She said she believes people are ready for a move to more public transportations, though this might take a little longer because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Skold said he is running because “our future is not guaranteed.” While threats of climate change and affordable housing and growing inequality are at our doorstep, he said, there is still time to fight for our future. He also sees Portland as having an important role in bringing young and diverse voices to the state conversation.
“I really see part of the role of state representative as lifting up voices of the city and being someone who’s involved in the community,” Skold said. “I am looking forward to that role and to using my voice to lift up and stand with others.”
Flaherty said he is running because he wants to see more young people get involved in politics. He said there are not many in his age group across the country who pay attention to or care much about politics. He said that if others see a 25-year-old in office, it would motivate them to become involved. He is also very outspoken about his opinions about politics.
He said he believes that if you’re going to criticize politics and politicians, “you should get up off the sideline and take part in the process.”
He told a candidate forum that an important issue to him is juvenile justice and that he would like to see money spent locking up youth redirected to restorative justice.
How would you rate the Mills administration’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis?
All three candidates agreed that Gov. Janet Mills, also a Democrat, is doing a great job handling the pandemic.
“I think she’s taking in more information as she gets it,” Wood said, “and is making incremental changes for all of us here in Maine.”
Skold said he appreciates how Mills is setting guidelines based on science. But he said more can be done to ensure safe and fair elections during the pandemic. He said he has been involved in lobbying efforts to put extra measures in place to help people exercise their right to vote.
Flaherty said that although a lot of people criticize Mills’ strategy for reopening the state’s economy, he thinks she has done an amazing job. He said she listens to the people of Maine on the issues, particularly small businesses, and has developed a county-by-county approach.
“Nobody had a perfect solution from the start,” Flaherty said. “There was just not enough information and understanding of the whole issue and everything it was going to affect. But what I love about her administration is how she’s constantly reevaluated the situation.”
What is your general view of the administration’s work so far?
Wood said she has always supported Mills, but also believes the governor should involve the Legislature more in the decision-making process.
“I think she’s done a good job pretty much with the executive branch,” Wood said. “… But it’s time now to really bring in others. We say it at L.L. Bean, ‘You support what you helped create,’ and I think that’s where we’re at now. The legislators are saying we need to be a part of this so that we can support it.”
Skold said Mills is one of the reasons he is running for the Legislature. He said her election with a Democratic-controlled Legislature is a window of opportunity for Maine.
Flaherty said Mills has done a good job rebuilding relationships or building relationships from scratch after taking over from an administration with a polar opposite standpoint. But she’s only been in office a short amount of time, he noted, and said Democrats will get a lot more done if they gain seats in both the House and the Senate.
How would you describe the atmosphere in Augusta? Could it be improved and if so how?
Wood said she recognizes that working in Augusta is a tough job and everyone is doing the best they can, and she hopes that recent discontent is just a “blip on the screen.”
Skold said there is a lot of excitement about the Mills administration and Democrats in the Legislature. He encouraged Democrats to use this momentum to think bigger about how to respond to challenges like climate change.
Flaherty said he believes there is not enough diversity in Maine state government, especially in age. The low pay and high time commitment, he said, means it is mostly people who are retired or who own their own businesses and have more control over their schedules who are able to serve. He said he wants to see more young people in the Legislature to manifest changes.
“(Recent) demonstrations in Portland are filled with young people, young adults that are very passionate,” Flaherty said. “If we could just translate that into voting and taking part in the political process, that’s going to make a world of difference.”
Do you support or oppose the so-called Clean Energy Connect, and why?
Wood said she has not made a decision on the corridor.
“It’s a very complicated issue,” she said. “I will support whatever the results are from the vote of the citizens on the (November) referendum.”
Skold said he wants to focus more on local renewable energy as a way to achieve net neutral energy production in Maine. While the CMP corridor promotes renewable energy, he said, it is not local.
Flaherty acknowledges the CMP corridor is very controversial, but he said he is not against it. While some say that Maine gets nothing from the deal, he argued the $250 million CMP would spend building a conversion station in Lewiston is significant. He also said since CMP has already gone through the legal and administrative hoops to get the deal through, it would be wrong to change the rules after the fact.
But the biggest reason he would not oppose it, Flaherty said, is because anytime anyone transitions to renewable energy, it helps everyone. “Even if it’s Massachusetts residents that are directly benefiting,” he said, “Maine also benefits from them moving away from fossil fuels.”
Should ranked-choice voting in Maine be continued as is, be abolished, or be extended to additional elections?
All three candidates agree about extending ranked-choice voting.
Wood said, “I love ranked-choice voting,” and she supports the effort to bring it to more of Portland’s local elections.
“Ranked-choice voting is awesome,” Flaherty said. “I’m all for it. I think the more elections that are using ranked-choice voting, the better.”
Skold said he believes ranked-choice voting should be continued and expanded to any office in Maine, that it is good for democratic representation, and something that makes Maine a national leader. He said he is disappointed the Republican Party is trying to “distract and divide” by trying to bring it up again in a November referendum.
“My race is going to be counted through ranked-choice voting,” he said, “and I’m very excited that the winner of this race, the eventual winner, will have the support of a majority of the people in the districts through that process.”
How would you propose to address institutional racism or change in policing? Would you support reductions in police budgets?
Wood said that there is no one answer that will solve the problem of racism, but that listening to people of color and understanding their experience is the first step.
She said she would like to see police union contracts renegotiated and the practice of qualified immunity ended, as well as training, procedures, and discipline reviewed. While she is not sure police budgets should be reduced, Wood said there should be a significant change in the way money is spent. For example, she suggested any money formerly spent on military-style equipment should go instead toward training and restorative justice.
Skold said he has joined some protests and is working to listen, learn and understand the ideas put forth by Black Lives Matter and other advocacy groups so that he can be an advocate and supporter for those trying to uproot systemic racism.
“I think it’s incredibly important to undo the damage of racism in this country,” he said, “and to take a hard look at how our history of racism has really impacted us from the beginning of this country and the state until today.”
He said he would like to make sure schools are teaching a history that doesn’t hide the injustice and the racism of our past and present. He said he has been impressed with the way activists have been armed with historical examples that can be seen resonating today, and says that through an understanding of history, we can make different decisions and find ways to end racism.
Flaherty said he has also participated in protests. He said he does not have enough information yet to know what defunding police would look like, especially because so few other places have tried it, but thinks it is an idea that should definitely be explored.
Seeing so many people around his age at the demonstrations made him hope even more that young people would get involved in politics.
“Really the most powerful way that change can be made is through the voting process,” Flaherty said, “and I hope … that all of those young adults are registered to vote.”