Justin Mark Chenette

Justin Mark Chenette

Justin Mark Chenette

Democratic candidate for Maine Senate District 31 from Saco

Running against Timothy Norman Sevigny. View your ballot →

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

As someone who was raised by a single mother on food stamps and subsidized housing, I take the issue of welfare reform very seriously. I want to make sure the resources we have for the social safety net go to the families that actually need it. This is why I voted to ban the use of TANF funds for purchases like alcohol, cigarettes, and lottery tickets. Any abuses in the system, either from individuals or corporations, must be enforced. That being said, we must encourage work rather than penalize people who actually find a job like we currently do by cutting them completely from essential services. A gradual decrease in help as individuals get back on their feet makes more common sense.

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

Frankly our property taxes are too high. No one Ive met, talking with folks at their door, has said income taxes are a barrier to reaching success in their lives. Instead, Ive met countless residents severely burdened by the ever-increasing property taxes. The state should provide adequate municipal revenue sharing that pays for essentials like fire and police in communities. We must also ensure we are funding education at the 55% rate for the states share that helps local schools afford quality education and improvements. This prevents local districts from picking up a bigger portion of the tab. For the sales tax, there should be a local options sales tax so that municipalities like tourist heavy Old Orchard Beach and Saco can lean a little more on visitors and less on residents. It also provides local control on how that money is spent rather than sending it to the state.

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


Please explain your answer. (Not required)

First I think our medical marijuana law has worked great. It has provided individuals an alternative form of medication that avoids the use of addictive narcotics. I have questioned the recreational use piece every step of the way at the State House. I personally think people should do something else with their time. Volunteer. Help others. Enjoy life without the use of a substance. From a legislative view though, I think its important to regulate the use of marijuana to protect people. Set high cultivation and safety standards to ensure what people are using isnt laced with a dangerous drug. Bring it out of the shadows and use the tax revenue to benefit educational and drug prevention programs. Much like weve seen in other states, it also helps to increase economic opportunities which we could use in this state.

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


Please explain your answer. (Not required)

Voters overwhelming decided at the ballot box that the states funding share of education should 55% of the total cost. The reality is the state has ignored the will of the people. We must provide more resources to help fund our classrooms and properly educate the next generation. By ensuring proper state funding, the less financial hit local school districts face in having to raise property taxes to cover the increasing expenses.

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


Please explain your answer. (Not required)

Firearm safety and regulations are a balance; a balance between personal and public safety, preserving our constitutional right to defend oneself, and our heritage of hunting in our beautiful state. Without a mandatory permitting process, we have limited our law enforcement one less tool to go after drug dealers and traffickers and protect victims of domestic violence. I think its important to close the gun show loophole and ensure proper background checks. Most responsible gun owners welcome a background check. They grew up around firearms, took safety courses, in some cases got a permit, and have nothing to hide. I do have some concerns with how Question 3 is worded though. I would prefer we flush out a better proposal that takes into account what would be best for Maine regardless of what other states do. One out of state special interest group against another isnt the right debate.

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


Please explain your answer. (Not required.)

Mainers work hard. Our strong work ethic is something that represents the core of who we are. While productivity has steadily increased, while the cost of goods and services have also increased, wages have not caught up. If wages were directly tied to inflation, we probably wouldnt have a need for arbitrarily increasing the minimum wage. The reality is, people need to afford the gas in their car in order to get to the job. People need to be able to afford a basic standard of living. While corporate America racks up record profits, their employees are relying on state and federal safety nets in order to supplement their low wages. I think taxpayers have footed the bill far too long. Corporations should step up and gradually raise wages to limit the use of welfare programs. I applaud small businesses across our state that have already done this.

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


Please explain your answer. (Not required)

No response.

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?

We must get a handle on the drug epidemic. People are dying from drug overdoses on an almost weekly basis. As a member of the Criminal Justice & Public Safety Committee, weve made this a top priority. This past session we passed a comprehensive proposal to increase enforcement to go after the dealers and traffickers, start a grant for local police departments to implement a judgement free/law free environment to seek resources and help, increase capacity for drug courts, and invest in various treatment modalities. We must do more. We must focus on drug prevention early on in our schools and really heighten our efforts on treatment rather than constantly cut and limit treatment for addiction. It starts with a conversation with folks going through the battle of addiction like I have at area programs like the Milestone Foundation in Old Orchard Beach. These programs represent an important lifeline. It has to be a combination of enforcement, treatment, and prevention.

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?

As someone who co-sponsored legislation to allow a statewide popular vote of the constitutional officers, working with my friends on the other side of the aisle, I really believe in giving the power to the people. Let them decide on who the states major office holders should be. Right now the process is behind closed doors and is ultimately given to the party faithful on both sides without much debate. It would allow more individuals to participate in the process, educate the public about what exactly these positions do, and make them transparent and accountable to the people.

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

During my first term, I co-sponsored legislation to move to a Unicameral Legislature. This would create a larger Senate and remove the need for two bodies of the Legislature, essentially eliminating the House. It sounds radical, but Nebraska has made it work successfully. It would save the state over $11 million a year and would streamline state government to be more efficient and effective. Ultimately the voters should decide whether they want legislators be full time versus part time. The pay shouldnt be increased, but I would support a public debate over having legislators work year-round rather than the current condensed version of 4 to 6 months.

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

After an investigation from the bipartisan Government Oversight Committee to obtain the facts, I think its important to hold fellow leaders accountable whoever they may be. Governor LePage, for example, should have been impeached and I was proud to stand up to him in voting to do just that.

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

No I would not. Im proud of my pro-worker record having been endorsed by the Maine AFL-CIO and the Maine State Employees Association.

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

It should be up to the communities themselves or a surrounding area rather than an entire statewide vote. Local control should be recognized and respected. There should also be a statewide comprehensive plan to ensure the best deal for Maine residents in awarding licenses.

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

There are two major items that prevent economic development from taking place: Access to skilled labor and high energy costs. Number one is access to a larger base of a skilled labor force. To put it more simply, we need more people, younger Mainers to stay in Maine to apply their skill sets in the workplace. Large employers look at the workforce potential before deciding on re-locating or starting up a new business in the state. One step we took this past session was an expansion of the Opportunity Maine Tax Credit to help lessen the burden of student loan debt if Maine students chose to stay in Maine after college. This is one step. We must also, through our adult education programs, assist former mill workers and those thinking about second careers in gaining additional skills to obtain 21st century jobs. The second item that needs our attention is the high cost of energy. Between transportation costs, fuel for example, and heating oil in the winter, its not easy to do certain types of business in the state without paying for it. The Legislature should invest in tax credits for business and individuals to convert to other energy, more efficient and cheaper, sources like solar and wind. Sadly, we were just a few votes shy this past session for the solar bill. Elections matter.

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?

It doesnt necessarily have to be immigration. It could be keeping young Mainers in the state rather than re-locating to more urban centers like Boston because of job opportunities. Maine has a lot to offer, but sometimes we have to connect the dots and provide incentives for young people to stay and raise families. By assisting with college affordability and increasing our offerings at our state college system, we can show large employers that there is a skilled labor force ready to grow their bottom line. Also, if we encourage entrepreneurship of start-ups, we can also help to create more jobs and keep young people in the state to bring their business ideas to life in their home state.

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

We must change the atmosphere of corruption that plagues Augusta where the special interest group and lobbyist with the largest checkbook has the most direct influence over public policy decision making. Through large contributions via political action committee aka PACs, these large corporate interests and slick lobbyists, demand access, influence, and votes from sitting legislators. You deserve to have a government that is transparent, accountable, and fights for the best interests of main street not bought and sold to the highest bidder. My bill that closed a loophole in the Clean Elections system became law. I hope to build on that success and put forward stronger ethics reforms.