Maine lawmakers head to Taiwan on trade mission

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AUGUSTA — Just a day after being sworn into office, a trio of state lawmakers, two Democrats and one Republican, will head to Taiwan on a trade mission.

State Sens. John Patrick, D-Rumford, and Brian Langley, R-Ellsworth, along with state Rep. Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, will depart for the seven-day trip, paid for by the Taiwanese government, on Thursday. The men will be sworn in as lawmakers Wednesday — all three were re-elected in November.

Patrick serves on the Legislature’s Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee. McCabe is the incoming House majority leader.

Patrick said Monday that he hopes to gain information that could help Maine’s paper industry, which has seen two mills close in recent months, putting hundreds of workers out of jobs.

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Patrick is a journeyman mechanic who has worked for 32 years at the NewPage mill in Rumford, according to his legislative profile.

Skowhegan, McCabe’s town, is the home of Sappi Fine Paper North America’s Somerset Mill. McCabe is the incoming House majority leader.  

Langley is a retired culinary arts teacher and owns and operates a lobster restaurant in Ellsworth. 

McCabe said Tuesday that the trip is an annual journey made by a group of lawmakers from the New England states. He said the trip would include a large number of “meet-and-greet” events.

He said the paper industry may come up, but there was no specific agenda around papermaking.

“It’s more to just help develop connections and ties for every kind of economic development,” McCabe said.

Langley, who has been the lead Senate Republican on the Legislature’s Education Committee, is likely to chair the committee when Republicans take the majority in the Senate starting Wednesday.

He said he was interested in learning more about Taiwan’s education system, in which students outperform U.S. students academically.

“I always like to see if there is something useful we can take back and apply here in Maine,” Langley said.

Langley has traveled in Asia previously, most recently to Japan. He said he’s looking forward to the time outside the Legislature with his Democratic colleagues.

While they are from different parties, he said he’s worked well with Patrick and McCabe in the past and was looking forward to sharing some of Taiwan’s cuisine with his colleagues from Maine.

A chef by training, Langley quipped, “I’m going to enjoy the look on Sen. Patrick’s face when I slide a piece of raw fish across the table towards him.”

He said he usually spends time on his travels to talk up Maine lobster but also to learn what the state and industry need to do to better market the state’s iconic shellfish to the rest of the world.

“I like to hear from them what they need in order to better help us on the marketing end of things here,” Langley said.

He said the itinerary for the trip includes specific visits that incorporate the various interests of all lawmakers on the trip in hopes of strengthening economic ties between Taiwan and New England.

The trip is sponsored by the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Boston. The lawmakers will return to the United States on Dec. 12.

sthistle@sunjournal.com

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