LEWISTON — Two candidates running for Lewiston’s state Senate District 21 seat shared their views on several key issues during a short forum at the Pine Street Wellness and Recovery Center on Thursday.

Republican Patti Gagne and Democrat Nate Libby split ways on most of the hot-button issues, including raising the state’s minimum wage and expanding Maine’s Medicaid program, MaineCare, under the federal Affordable Care Act.

The candidates, along with Leslie Dubois, who is a candidate for Lewiston’s House District 60 race, fielded a series of questions from a small group gathered as part of a Homeless Voices for Justice event. Dubois, a Republican, serves on the Lewiston City Council. Her opponent, Democrat Jared Golden, was unable to attend the event Thursday.

The nonprofit Wellness and Recovery Center organizes forums and helps register the homeless to vote. This is its 20th year running its “You Don’t Need a Home to Vote” program. Organizers said they registered more than 2,500 voters over the years and this year were holding forums and offering homeless voter support from Portland to Bangor and beyond.

Gagne said she wouldn’t support a minimum wage hike, while Libby said he had voted to support failed efforts to boost the minimum wage to $9.50 in 50-cent stages over three years during his time as a state representative. 

Libby said when the minimum wage was first enacted, it was designed so that two people working full-time earning the minimum wage would be able to raise a family of four without government support. He said now the minimum wage didn’t even come close to that.


“Because of the inflation, the increasing cost of gas, fuel, insurance, food and all that stuff has gotten more expensive, the minimum wage hasn’t kept up with inflation,” Libby said. “If you have two people earning the minimum wage today, they are not making enough to make it on their own.”

Gagne, an insurance agent, said while some businesses might be able to afford a boost in the minimum wage, it would force others to close their doors and would cost jobs. 

Gagne said that as a small business owner, she knows what it’s like to have a “zero” paycheck.

“I pay my employees more than I take home,” Gagne said. “I know what it’s like to try and run a business to give people opportunities to work, so I am on the business side and I have three employees, but I sometimes have a real tough time making my budget.”

Gagne said good employers will give a decent wage because they want decent employees. She suggest that even without a minimum wage, businesses would pay valuable workers more.  

“I might be able to afford $10 an hour, but if there are other employers in town like myself who see a zero checkbook balance and they have payroll coming up, how can they afford to give people an opportunity for a job at all if the minimum wage goes up to $10 and they pay minimum?” Gagne asked. 


Maine’s minimum wage is $7.50 an hour, 25 cents higher than the federal minimum wage.

Most of the 20 or so members of the audience were homeless, had recently been homeless or were peer advocates for homeless people. Many said they were dependent on help from either state programs or the city’s General Assistance program to get by.

Several said they lost their MaineCare coverage when the state changed eligibility standards that removed childless adults from the program. At least two in the group said they were working when they lost their Medicaid coverage because of the 2011 change. Another said that because he lost his medical coverage, his health deteriorated to the point he could no longer work and struggled to pay for medications that kept him functioning.

Libby said he supported an expansion of Medicaid in Maine and said he voted at least a dozen times, as a state representative, to accept the federal funding to expand the system.  

Libby, who is running against Gagne for the open state Senate seat being vacated by state Sen. Margaret Craven, a Democrat who is retiring from the Legislature, said efforts to pass a Medicaid expansion in Maine had been blocked by Republican Gov. Paul LePage, who has vetoed expansion legislation five times.

“(Expanding coverage) is the morally right thing to do,” Libby said. “For the richest nation in the world to turn our backs on people when it comes to a basic thing like health care, I think (it) is morally wrong.”


Libby also said that accepting the federal funding for a Medicaid expansion that would cover an additional 70,000 people would be the “economically smart” thing to do. He said it would help hospitals, including St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center and Central Maine Medical Center as well health care providers who help the sick or injured who have no insurance.

“If we don’t accept the federal dollars for a MaineCare expansion, then your tax dollars are going to go to subsidize a Medicaid expansion in every other state in the country and we are going to be stuck here with nothing,” Libby said.

Gagne said she didn’t believe in expanding Medicaid in Maine, saying that would eventually lead to costs the state couldn’t afford. She suggested those who needed coverage now would be pushed farther down the waiting list as the state moved to add more to the Medicaid rolls.

“By taking on 70,000 to 100,000 more recipients on MaineCare, you guys in line are going to get pushed back even further,” Gagne said. She said the state’s medical benefits programs were meant for those who were too sick or disabled to work.

“I think it would be nicer if we could try to help existing people who are on the system get off the system,” Gagne said. “In particular, people who are able to work. Aid is for people who cannot work because of physical or mental disabilities. Do we want to just throw out millions of dollars for more people to get on the system when we are trying to help people get off the system?”


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