LEWISTON — A Democratic candidate for the state Senate says his voting record on welfare reform is being misrepresented by the Maine Republican Party.
The GOP campaign flier attacks Nate Libby of Lewiston for weakening efforts to “crack down” on fraud and abuse.
Libby says the mailer, which features a photo of a heavy-set man eating pizza with a television remote control resting on his belly, declares, “Libby won’t reform welfare,” is simply unfair and inaccurate. The man in the photo is not Libby.
His Republican opponent, Patti Gagne, called the mailer “horrible” and said she was opposed to using negative tactics in the campaign for Lewiston’s Senate District 21 seat. The district includes the entire city of Lewiston.
Gagne, a first-time candidate for state office, is the owner of an All-State insurance agency and has been a prominent and active member of the the city’s business community. She is the outgoing chairwoman of the Androscoggin County Chamber of Commerce.
Libby, a Lewiston city councilor, said he expects a certain amount of dishonesty in political advertisement, but the latest mailer is simply off base. It lists three legislative votes Libby made as a state representative earlier this year.
In a response sent to the Sun Journal on Thursday, Libby said the GOP attack messages are overlooking some key details about his votes, suggesting that he opposed cracking down on the use of state-issued electronic benefit transfer cards outside Maine; that he watered down a proposed ban on the use of welfare benefits for alcohol, tobacco, gambling and bail; and that he opposed a bill that would have required mandatory work searches for welfare recipients.
The mailer references three votes Libby took on three bills but fails to paint a full picture of the debate that took place, including votes Libby took in favor of a series of amendments that were aimed at refining the reforms that were rejected by Republicans, including Gov. Paul LePage.
Libby said on the bill that would have banned out-of-state EBT card use, Democratic lawmakers wanted an amendment to exempt New Hampshire from the ban, mainly because many Maine EBT cardholders live closer to grocery stores in New Hampshire than Maine.
On the bill that required a work-search, Libby said he didn’t oppose the effort to require able-bodied adults to look for work if they were receiving welfare benefits, but he did want to exempt adults who were full-time caregivers for disabled children from the work-search requirement.
Libby said the claim that he voted against a bill that sought to ban the use of welfare benefits for buying alcohol, tobacco, gambling and bail was simply incorrect.
He said that he, in fact, voted for the bill and he voted for an amended version of the bill that would have toughened penalties for those caught abusing the system.
In a recent Facebook post, Gagne distanced herself from the attack mailers. “I want everyone to know that my opponent and I speak highly of each other, and negative mailers do not come from us,” she wrote.
She said has not called the Maine GOP to ask them to stop sending the mailers but that she does not approve of them.
“We candidates are able to win on our own merits and do not have to rely on negative ads,” Gagne said.
On her campaign website, Gagne explains her position on welfare reform:
“Certainly, there are those who need government support, and I will continue to fight for the vulnerable, the elderly, and those who are not able to work due to physical or mental disabilities.”
Gagne has spoken publicly about her belief that the state needs a tiered system of welfare that allows those receiving benefits to build independence without losing all of their benefits at once.
“Welfare reform shouldn’t mean ‘pulling the carpet out from underneath’ the neediest Mainers but scaling back benefits, so that employment opportunities can be taken advantage of without making less than they were on government aid,” according to Gagne’s website.
Libby said he too supports reforming the system in a way that’s fair and meaningful. According to his campaign website, he is ” … advocating real reform that doesn’t hurt our elderly, disabled and children but instead strengthens enforcement and targets those gaming the system.”
Gagne said she has been the subject of attack mailers from Maine Democrats, including some that target her for signing the Grover Norquist “no new taxes” pledge. Gagne said she’s fine with that because she is opposed to raising taxes.
Gagne said she believes Libby had asked the Maine Democratic Party to stop sending the mailers, a statement Libby confirmed. “I just think it’s a huge waste of money and it really just turns people off,” Libby said.
David Sorensen, spokesman for the Maine GOP, said the party stands behind the attack mailers. In an email to the Sun Journal, Sorensen wrote that the party wasn’t accusing Libby of voting against one of the bills in question but of “watering it down.”
Rachel Irwin, a spokeswoman for the Maine Democratic Party, said Libby did convey that he wanted to keep his campaign for the state Senate positive.
“However, the Maine Democratic Party does its own independent expenditures,” Irwin said. “We stand by all of our mail pieces and we believe that Lewiston voters deserve to know the distinctions between Nate Libby and his opponent.”