MaineWatchdog sat down with Phil Bartlett, Maine’s State Senator from the sixth district, for a brief Q&A session. Read Senator Bartlett’s bio here.
How do you interpret the November 2 election results?
It was a clear national wave of frustration with the pace of the economic recovery. Given the consistency of election results from both ends of the country, there is one overarching message: people are very frustrated with the strong partisanship they are seeing in Washington. They are tired of the bickering and the hostility. The good news is that what we do in Augusta has strong bi-partisan support. I think that gets lost in the din coming out of Washington, but we want to continue our collaborative efforts.
What can be done about the public pension liability?
It’s important to acknowledge that the retirement system is stable going forwards. The question is how to pay off the existing debt. There’s no question that we need to protect the current assets – they should be sacrosanct. The core principle is that you respect the obligation. In terms of how you do that, there may be some creative options to reduce the overall cost of that debt to Maine.
Influence of money in election cycle?
We’ve seen an unprecedented level of cash and independent expenditures. The National Republican Organization that came in spent an extraordinary amount of money, and filed their disclosure forms late, likely on purpose so that matching funds were delayed. It really seemed like a calculated delay in order to minimize the time their opponents had to react. We have to change this. If you are a large group with a lot of money, getting fined is not a deterrent – it’s a cost of doing business. It’s unconscionable that a group could come in spend extraordinary amounts of money. It also seemed like a lot of money wasn’t coming in to bolster their candidates, but to attack their opponents.
What is the purpose of government?
Government exists principally to do the things that we can’t do individually or that the private sector won’t do on their own, such as bridges, public safety, and schools. The government also exists to correct chronic market failures, to make sure that there are open and competitive markets. Additionally, government must ensure that everyone has an opportunity to thrive in the economy and in society, which requires education, access to health insurance, and efforts to help small businesses marshal resources.
Who is your political role model?
I have a lot of respect for Ed Muskie. Especially coming from a small state to tackle issues on a national scale, that he was able to galvanize support around environmental issues is truly remarkable.
What is your favorite piece of political writing?
My economics major as an undergraduate gave me an appreciation for the important role that government has. From a political perspective, FDR is a hero of mine in terms of redefining how government can stabilize the economy. He recognized the importance of providing these stabilizers that help protect and support, give dignity to the individual as well as provide an economic benefit.
What is your favorite piece of literature?
I’d say “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” by Oscar Wilde. When I first read it, I wrote a paper as a junior in High School. The story of a personal struggle that so many of us go through trying to understand who we are, trying to come to terms with the good and bad about ourselves. “Great Expectations,” by Charles Dickens, I think, taps into the inequality in society. It also taught me that your particular station in life has little relevance on your happiness.
What is one thing you wish you could change about the culture in Augusta?
We need a longer term vision. It’s very hard with two-year election cycles to get the buy-in for that vision. It’s easy to lose sight of the long-term. It’s hurts when you are looking at a long-term energy policy and big structural policies like MaineCare or health care or education. At the end of the day, you’re looking at the impact over two years, when the benefit may not come for ten years.
Where have you been on earth that most people will never go?
Tibet. I was there with the American Council of Young Political Leaders. It was an amazing thing to see. To actually be there, it was both inspiring and concerning when you look at what the Chinese government is doing to quell opposition.
If Maine prospers in the coming decades, it will be because…
Because we’ve made investments in higher education to increase education of our workforce, strategic investments in R&D to promote industries, supported small businesses in their development and growth.