2016-11-21 / Opinion

The campaigns are over. It’s time to get to work.

State Sen. Susan Deschambault

The long campaign season is finally over, and I want to thank the residents of Senate District 32 for their continued support. Returning to Augusta to represent you in the Maine Senate is one of the highest privileges and honors of my life.

During the four campaigns I ran in eight months, I’ve had the chance to meet with so many of you. I’ve had hundreds of conversations with constituents. Many of you told me the same thing: you want us in the Legislature to work together, to put politics aside and to do the work necessary to improve your lives. 

This year was unique in that Mainers weren’t only choosing their elected representatives, but were consulted directly on several consequential policy decisions.

Maine’s referenda process puts citizens in the driver’s seat. The number of referenda on the ballot this year was historic, and now, you all have had your say. Regardless of how any of us may have voted on the referenda, I believe the will of the voters must be respected.

However, I know many of my constituents, as well as residents and businesses throughout the state, have lots of questions about how the Legislature will implement the four laws approved by voters on Election Day. Of those, there are two that will require substantive work by the Legislature.

Recreational marijuana use passed by a very slim margin, and a recount has been requested. However, assuming the “Yes” result is verified, Maine will join just a handful of other states in legalizing the use of a drug that for generations has been prohibited. That’s no small task. The law calls for major, substantive rulemaking by the Legislature to govern the production, sale, taxation and use of recreational marijuana. I pledge to be open-minded in crafting reasonable rules that honor the intent of the referendum and the will of Maine voters. 

I’ve heard from several local school officials with unanswered questions about Question 2, which passed on Election Day and creates a new 3 percent tax on wealthy individual’s income to provide additional funding for our schools. For more than a decade, Augusta has failed to honor its obligation to fund 55 percent of local education costs. Schools have suffered as a result, and property taxpayers have been forced to make up the difference. This law is meant to fill the gap, but we’ll need to work hand-in-hand with school officials on the front lines, in our local communities, to ensure this funding ends up in the classroom — not in the administrative offices. I pledge to honor the intent of this new revenue stream so that our schools see an increase in funding, and to fight any efforts that may arise to “sweep” this funding for other purposes.

There is one final issue I want to address in the coming Legislature, and it is one that is first and foremost in the minds of many families in York County: the drug crisis. 

Just this week, Attorney General Janet Mills announced that drug-related deaths in Maine had reached an all-time high, with one Mainer dying from overdose every single day. That figure is appalling. These are our neighbors, our friends and our family members who are succumbing to addiction and losing their lives.

The drug crisis is a public health issue. It affects all of us. I worked for decades in the Department of Corrections, and have seen first-hand the effect that drug abuse and dependence have on not only the addict, but their families and the community at large. But I’ve also seen that effective, evidence-based intervention, treatment and recovery programs can save lives.

The hard, jarring reality is simple: These deaths are preventable. I know that my constituents demand meaningful action to solve the drug crisis. That means continued support of law enforcement efforts and further funding for counseling, treatment and recovery throughout the state. As your senator, I will continue to fight for a balanced approach to save Maine lives. Nothing is more important.

 — State Sen. Susan Deschambault, D-Biddeford, represents District 32, which includes Alfred, Arundel, Biddeford, Dayton, Kennebunkport and Lyman.

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