February 8, 2014

Senator Gary Plummer announces retirement - By Senator Gary Plummer

Time for a break

I was elected to the first Windham Town Council in 1974, when Windham voted to change from selectmen to the council/manager form of government. Since that time, I have served in an elected office nearly continuously. After consulting with family and friends, over the last several days, I have decided that it is time for a break. Therefore, I will not be a candidate for the state senate or any other office in November of 2014.

There are many reasons that I have come to this conclusion. The first, and certainly most important, is family. My mother is still able to live alone. During the legislative session I have to leave Windham before she gets up in the morning and get back home too late in the evening to stop and visit with her. This has added considerable extra stress for me. The same is true for others in my life. I am involved in a wonderful relationship and I have two children and two grandchildren. All have taken a backseat during the months that I spend in Augusta.  Although most people who I have asked believe that I could win, having Bill Diamond as an opponent, means that I would have to campaign seven days per week from now until the election. That means that the level of stress would continue well beyond the end of the legislative session.

Another factor in this decision is that I am not having as much fun as I did during the first four sessions in the legislature. The level of vitriol and lack of respect seemed to grow greatly during the first year of this session. I had taken steps during the break to try to change this. I had hoped that when we came back in January that this would change. It has not.

Some are quick to blame the governor for this divisive culture. I would point out that he does not hold a seat in the legislature. We in this branch of government are responsible for our actions. I see some of this attitude filtering down from Washington. I try very hard to be a positive person. The negative atmosphere that often prevails in Augusta adds another level of stress to my life.

I have worked hard to represent the views of my constituents in Senate District 12. Although my conservative views have been critized by many, the results of the survey that I sent out in the fall seemed to bear out my belief. Those who took the time to send the survey back to me confirmed that the way I was leaning on the issues is the way they would vote.

One issue that I did not include in the survey is the expansion if Medicaid. I chose not to include this issue because it was defeated during the first year of this session and legislative rules prevent an issue that is defeated from coming back to the second part of the session. I was a bit surprised that legislative leadership allowed what is essentially the same bill to come back this year. I am currently reading all relevant reports and other materials to help me make the “right” decision on this important issue.

During my tenure in the legislature I have worked on many issues that I am proud of. These include:

-         Paying our hospitals $484 million dollars that the state has owed for several years. This debt was the result of Medicaid services provided by Maine hospitals for which they were never reimbursed. My parents brought me up to believe that if you owed money you paid that debt before making new expenditures.

-         Passing an Omnibus Energy Bill. This bill addresses reducing the cost of energy in Maine, cutting back on greenhouse emissions, making money available to insulate Maine homes and increasing the availability of natural gas.

-         Improving Our Health Insurance Market. As a result of actions taken in the last legislative session, Cumberland and York counties are seeing reduced insurance rates and a slowing down of rate increases.

-         Reformed the Maine Turnpike Authority. This incident of corruption should serve to warn us that no matter how much you trust the top person in an agency, there still needs to be oversight. Safeguards have been put in place that should prevent similar thefts from, not only this agency, but others throughout state government.

-         Insuring concealed handgun permit holder confidentially. I was very proud to be the lead cosponsor on a bill that allows the names and personal information of people who hold concealed handgun permits to be kept confidential.

-         Protecting Second Amendment rights. Many bills have been introduced that would limit the rights of law abiding citizens to own firearms or ammunition. It has been statistically shown that areas like Maine, which has higher legal gun ownership, also have less crime. We need to continue to protect this constitutional right.

We have also:

-         Increased state funding to local school districts by $19 million.
-         Cut the legislative budget by $8.3 million over the current 2-year session.
-         Provided tax relief to working families and entirely eliminated 70,000 low income firers from state income tax liability.
-         Established a 5-year limit on TANF benefits. This is consistent with federal law. It does allow for continued benefits in hardship cases.
-         Ended Maine Care benefits for non-legal citizens.
-         Imposed strict sanctions for people who violate TANF rules.
-         Require mandatory drug testing for convicted drug felons who receive TANF benefits.

There is still a great deal that needs to be done on welfare reform to insure that those who are truly in need continue to receive help. I believe that those who cheat the system are making it much more difficult for the truly needy to get benefits. We really do not know the extent of fraud and cheating in this area.

I do want constituents to know that even though I am announcing my intent to retire, I will remain your Maine State Senator until December. Please continue to contact me with your needs and opinions.

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