State Rep. Jeffrey Pierce, R-Dresden, is seeking a second term in the Legislature to bring “good Maine common sense” to the legislative process, he said.
Pierce represents House District 53, which includes Arrowsic, Dresden, Georgetown, Phippsburg, part of Richmond, and Woolwich. The district’s residents include many fishermen, farmers, Bath Iron Works employees, and tradesmen, Pierce said.
Pierce said he is intimately familiar with the district’s needs as someone who has lived in the district for the majority of his life. Pierce was born and raised in Augusta, lived in Phippsburg for about 18 years, and has lived in Dresden for the last 18 years, he said.
He was raised with the mindset of helping neighbors and the community however possible – be it shoveling snow, cutting firewood, or participating in government, he said.
Pierce, a general contractor, chairs the Dresden Planning Board and has been on the board for longer than he can remember, he said. He is also a member of the Dresden Budget Review Committee, served on the comprehensive plan committee, and served on the municipal fire station building committee.
“These are the things you do when you live in a community,” he said.
His foray into state and national politics began in 2007 when the Atlantic State Marine Fisheries Commission’s Shad and River Herring Management Plan threatened to close alewife fisheries along the coast.
Pierce formed the Alewife Harvesters of Maine, which successfully lobbied at the state and national levels to create a sustainable alewife harvesting plan. The plan protects not only the river-fishing heritage of Maine, which is “a way of life for people,” but also the sustainability of the alewife species, Pierce said.
In 2014, Pierce defeated three-time incumbent Rep. Peter Kent, D-Woolwich, to represent the newly created House District 53. His advocacy for marine fisheries continued in the Legislature.
He is the ranking minority member of the Marine Resources Committee and sponsored or co-sponsored several bills with bipartisan support focused on improving fish passage and studying the impact of the increasing acidity of the ocean on fisheries.
As a legislator, Pierce said he has at times angered Democrats and at times angered Republicans. “I’m not a party hack,” Pierce said. “A good idea is a good idea.”
Since he entered the Legislature, it has considered 2,460 bills, and Pierce has read every single one of them, he said. Legislation should be written so common people can understand it, Pierce said. If Pierce reads a bill, does not understand it, and no one can answer his questions about it, he will not vote for it, he said.
In considering legislation, Pierce always asks if it is a good policy that will benefit at least 65 percent of the people, he said. He also considers how long the policy will be good for, be it five years, 10 years, or longer.
Pierce was opposed to the solar bill, LD 1649, “An Act to Modernize Maine’s Solar Power Policy,” because mathematically it did not work, he said. The bill would have subsidized solar energy producers at an increased cost to other ratepayers, Pierce said.
“I’m all for solar, but don’t increase your elderly neighbor’s rate for it,” Pierce said. “That’s unconscionable.” A solid energy policy will require “an all hands on deck” approach, Pierce said, with wind, solar, hydro, natural gas, and other technologies playing a part.
The opioid crisis sweeping through Maine will be a major topic in the Legislature moving forward, Pierce said. Drug users should face a stiff penalty or be given the option to enter into a drug treatment program, Pierce said.
It is the only thing that will deter people from using, he said. Right now, users are given a slap on the wrist, he said.
Pierce would also like to see stiffer penalties for opioid and heroin traffickers. “People balk at the sentences for drug dealers, but they’re killing our kids,” Pierce said. “What do murderers get?”
The health implications of long-term addiction are also draining resources from the elderly and handicapped, populations that truly need government assistance, Pierce said.
A bipartisan welfare reform bill passed by the Legislature is a point of pride for Pierce. The bill will prevent the abuse of welfare benefits and ensure state dollars go to the most needy, not able-bodied individuals in the 18-58 age range with no dependents – a demographic that should be in the workforce, Pierce said.
“If someone needs a hand up, you give it to them,” Pierce said. “When it becomes a handout, where does it end?” Pierce said that for him, the success of a welfare program is determined by how many people are able to transition off of it, not by how many people are on it.
The Medicaid expansion that has consistently passed through the Legislature but has been vetoed by Governor Paul LePage would do little to nothing to benefit the elderly, Pierce said. The expansion would provide more services to the 18- to 58-year-old demographic that should be in the workforce, he said.
“It will ensure a welfare state in Maine,” Pierce said. The previous Medicaid expansion left holes in the state budget “as big as a building,” Pierce said.
In terms of education, Pierce would like to see a return to the basics, with successful schools serving as a model to others, and a re-emphasis on vocational training that will qualify graduates for good-paying jobs in Maine’s trades.
As a father of two sons, Pierce is familiar with some of the difficulties in the public school system, which operates on a model focused on higher education. While college is great, the focus on higher education has “left a lot of kids out in the cold,” Pierce said.
Pierce would like to see his sons stay in Maine and have access to good-paying jobs. High school graduates with marketable skills will not only attract companies to Maine, because they will not have to train the workforce from “ground zero,” but will also enable young people to stay in Maine, Pierce said.
While Pierce’s background enables him to bring a common-sense perspective to the Legislature, the decisions he makes are based on what is good for the majority of the community, he said. “Anything we do up there, it’s not one person,” Pierce said. “It’s not an I, it’s a we.”
“I hope that people feel that I’ve done a good job and a prudent job and that they’ll vote for me again,” Pierce said. “I actually weigh the policy; I hope people feel I made the right decisions.”