James R. Torbert

James R. Torbert

James R. Torbert

Democratic candidate for Maine House District 88 from Whitefield

Running against Deborah J. Sanderson. View your ballot →

Is Maine too generous in providing social services to its residents? Which government benefits should be increased or decreased?

The main problem with our system of public assistance is the set of barriers it presents to people in need who want to leave it and become more productive contributors to society.

Do you support expanding or raising the sales tax to lower the state income tax? Why or why not?

No: Sales taxes are inherently regressive, as are real estate property taxes and excise taxes, particularly for retirees living on a fixed income. State government needs to live up to its obligation to fund at least 55% of the statewide total of local, K-12 education costs and to share at least 5% of sales and excise tax receipts with municipalities, neither of which has happened. This failure on the part of State Government has added to the burden on local taxpayers. I believe that the income tax breaks that the LePage administration and its allies in the Legislature have given to the wealthiest among us are unconscionable and will not result in increased prosperity on the local level. If we need to look at increasing the public revenue stream,or just making it more fair, I think we need to revisit raising our meals and lodging taxes, which would effectively export a large portion of the burden, and to legalizing and taxing cannabis (see below).

Do you support marijuana legalization in Maine, as outlined in Question 1?

Yes

Please explain your answer. (Not required)

Our 80+ year-long prohibition of Marijuana has been a legal and social catastrophe. I believe that regulating and taxing cannabis like alcohol and tobacco would do more to keep it out of the hands of minors than criminalizing it has (and as a retired high school teacher, I have no illusions about that) while providing a needed and purely voluntary revenue stream. The current ballot proposal does raise legitimate issues regarding implementation and the protection of small, local growers, but I think they can be worked out as the resulting legislation is crafted.

Do you support raising taxes on Mainers with incomes above $200,000 to increase state aid to education, as outlined in Question 2?

Yes

Please explain your answer. (Not required)

We all have a huge stake in the education of today's children, and that may be especially true of those whose hard work and financial success depends on the next generation having the skills to maintain their legacy. The State needs to live up to its obligation to fund at least 55% of the total of local education costs, so I support this ballot question as long as the revenue it may generate is safely earmarked for that purpose.

Do you support universal background checks for firearm sales, as outlined in Question 3?

Yes

Please explain your answer. (Not required)

Everyone needs to read Section 8 of the legislation proposed by this ballot question. That section deals with the exceptions to the background check requirements, and it effectively rebuts many of the objections to the measure that have been raised by the NRA and its followers. In addition, the claim by opponents that the question 3 is an out-of-state effort ignores the broad support it has within this state, including the over 80,000 voters who signed it to put it on the ballot. The claims that it may be unconstitutional or that it attempts to create a registry of gun owners are both false. Meanwhile, and most important, it closes a critical loophole in the law. Why should I be able to answer an ad for a firearm in Uncle Henry's or on-line and not go through the same process in purchasing it that I would have to go through if I went to Hussey's General Store in Windsor? This is a question of the equal application of the law. I also am informed by the opinion of the law enforcement community, including Sheriff Bracket here in Lincoln County.

Should Maine raise its minimum wage, as outlined in Question 4?

Yes

Please explain your answer. (Not required.)

A raise in the minimum wage is long overdue, and this measure does it in a considered, gradual way. Reactionary alarmists have always wailed that raising the minimum wage will have dire, economic consequences, such as being inflationary or ruining small businesses, and they've always been proved wrong. Raising the minimum wage may be the least costly form of economic stimulus we have.

Do you support the initiative to use ranked-choice voting to elect state and federal officials in Maine, as outlined in Question 5?

Yes

Please explain your answer. (Not required)

I believe ranked-choice voting will increase the level of civility in our public, political discourse, encourage the growth of minority political parties, and assure that whoever wins in a multi-candidate election will have at least the grudging support of a majority of the voters.

Should Maine prioritize law enforcement efforts to intercept drug traffickers over expanding access to substance abuse treatment, such those that incorporates medications like methadone and Suboxone?

Drug traffickers should be caught, convicted, and severely punished. That said, the traffickers who show up in Maine are small players in a huge, international enterprise, and our War on Drugs over the last half century or more has done little or nothing to inconvenience that foul business. We absolutely have to pay more attention to the demand that fuels that business, and that involves everything from making treatment and rehabilitation options more available to vocational training and job creation to break the cycle of despair that feeds drug addiction.

Should Maines constitutional officers -- the secretary of state, the attorney general, auditor and the treasurer -- continue to be elected by the Legislature or by statewide popular vote?

I think the current system works well in terms of maintaining the balance of power among our 3 branches of representative government.

Is the size of Maines Legislature appropriate? Should the pay for legislative service be increased?

A member of the Maine House of Representatives probably represents fewer voters than the average City Councilor in most small cities across the country. This is both good and bad. On the good side, it tends to keep our representatives closely in touch with their constituents (though not necessarily). On the 2nd question, I know that I can only afford to run for the Legislature and serve there because I'm retired and have a modest pension. We don't want to create a class of professional politicians at the State level, and we want to have a true, citizens' Legislature, but the current system falls short in accomplishing those goals. As far as the Maine Senate is concerned, I have wondered if it wouldn't be better to extend terms in that body to 4 years while having half the Senate up for election every 2 years.

Would you support sanctioning another elected official if he or she made public comments or statements that were considered racist, offensive or prejudicial?

Yes

Would you support a so-called right to work law in Maine?

No. So-called right-to-work laws are designed to undermine collective bargaining.

Would you support legislation or a ballot question to allow more casinos in Maine?

No, Gambling is a zero-sum game (or worse), except for those who own the casinos.

What is the biggest barrier to economic development in Maine and what can the Legislature do to address it?

For starters, see #16 below.

Census data show Maines population is aging and decreasing, with some economists suggesting that immigration is the best way to reverse those trends. What should the state do to address this demographic trend?

Immigration can help, but in the long term, we need to improve the educational & skill levels of our youth entering the work force. This will require a multi-faceted approach. As someone who has three grandsons growing up next door, this is not an abstract issue to me.

What is the most pressing issue in Maine these questions have not addressed?

I'm astounded that this questionaire didn't include a single question about climate change and its effects on the Maine economy or about the lack of access to adequate health care for thousands of Maine citizens. It makes me wonder if the editors of the B.D.N. live in the same universe I do.