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Vote or Quit Bitchin’ 2018

by | Oct 3, 2018

U.S. Senate candidate Zak Ringelstein and his son.

As we did for this year’s gubernatorial contenders, The Bollard crafted questions for the U.S. Senate and District 1 House of Representatives candidates that measure how progressive they are on economic issues. Federal officeholders generally have more power than their state counterparts, and more influence over the largest aspects of the economy, so their questions reflect that. For example, only the federal government can make the practice of stock buybacks — by which publicly traded corporations use profits to purchase their own shares — illegal again, as it was before 1982. Only the feds could reinstitute postal banking, enabling post offices to offer basic banking services to people who are otherwise either not using banks, or who are being exploited by payday lenders or private banks that charge high fees. And, of course, only Congress can repeal the massive Trump tax cuts for corporations and the wealthiest Americans.

The Senate race this year is a three-way contest between incumbent Angus King (who is not enrolled in a political party, but generally aligns with Democrats), Democratic candidate Zak Ringelstein, and Republican Eric Brakey. In the 1st Congressional District, which includes much of southern Maine, as well as Augusta and coastal communities from Kittery to Camden, incumbent Democrat Chellie Pingree is facing Republican Mark Holbrook and Marty Grohman, an unenrolled candidate from Biddeford who previously served in the Maine Legislature as a Democrat.

U.S. Sen. Angus King.

Both Ringelstein, a political newcomer, and King, who’s seeking a second six-year term in the Senate, responded to our questions. Brakey initially said he would respond, and we sent him the questions in writing to make it as easy as possible to participate, but he ultimately flaked out. Neither Pingree, who’s seeking her sixth two-year term, nor Holbrook, who lost to Pingree in 2016, care enough about the votes of Bollard readers to be part of this Guide, but Grohman provided answers to all our questions.

We’ll begin with the Senate contenders, then provide Grohman’s answers.

Should the Federal Reserve create billions or trillions of dollars, like it did to bailout Wall Street a decade ago, to fund public projects and initiatives for sustainability and social justice?

King: In his written response, King said Congress is “better suited” to decide such funding questions than the Federal Reserve is. He added that he supports “investments to protect the environment” and believes “we need … to do more to speak up for justice for marginalized members of our communities.”

Ringelstein: Yes. “That’s what we’ve been saying for this entire campaign … we have all this money to bail out banks, to go to war, for tax cuts for the ultra-wealthy, but when we talk about Medicare for all or teacher salaries, people say, ‘How do we pay for it?’ We pay for it by cutting costs on all these ridiculous expenditures on ends nobody wants, like war, and start investing in our people.”

When will you introduce legislation to levy a tax on Wall Street financial transactions, and how high should the rate be?

King: Apparently never. Instead, he cited his support of a bill, introduced by Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren, to separate traditional savings-and-loan banks from investment banking firms (the “21st –Century Glass-Steagall Act”).

Ringelstein: “I think it should happen immediately,” Ringelstein said. “We’re always taxing payrolls, which disproportionally hurts working people. The capital class, they make money by moving money around, not by actually contributing to society.” A 1 percent tax on Wall Street transactions “would go a very long way.”

Stock buybacks should be illegal again, right?

King: Is “not prepared to say we should ban stock buybacks altogether,” but is critical of large corporations’ use of money saved as a result of the Trump tax cuts to buy their own shares, rather than provide better pay or benefits for workers, or invest in research and development. King also acknowledged that Wall Street primarily benefits the wealthiest 10 percent of Americans, who collectively own about 84 percent of all stocks.

Ringelstein: Yes.

How soon can we reverse all of the Trump tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy and then increase taxes on the same?

King: King voted against the Trump tax cuts, but is not willing to commit to their repeal at this time. “Reversing these tax cuts and passing responsible, balanced tax reform that provides real relief to low- and middle-income Americans is going to take more pressure on members of Congress from the people that they represent,” he wrote. “I’m committed to continuing to fight for tax reform that works for everyone — reform that simplifies the tax code, does not encourage offshoring of American jobs, and provides relief to lower and middle-income taxpayers on issues of critical importance, like the cost of child and elder care.”

Ringelstein: Repeal the tax cuts as soon as possible. The Trump tax cuts are “a complete and utter scam,” he said. He did not call for further increases after repeal.

What tax and other financial incentives are you ready to implement to encourage the formation of more worker, producer and consumer co-ops?

King: “I’m a supporter of the co-op model because I believe it can help align incentives between organizations and their clients and promote democratic decision-making,” King wrote. He cited his support of legislation that encourages businesses to adopt employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs), and a bill to provide more funding for Rural Cooperative Development Grants.

Ringelstein: “I am a huge fan of co-ops, and as a dues-paying Democratic Socialist, I tend to think we need to move towards a scenario where workers have a much bigger say in their working conditions.” Supports efforts to increase opportunities to form cooperative businesses and educate the public about their benefits.

Should workers in large corporations elect just under half of their board of directors, as they do in Germany, or just over half?

King: “I think it’s important for lawmakers to consider how the recent Republican tax cuts have resulted not in significant wage increases for most workers or investments in research and development but instead in soaring stock buybacks — and how the composition of corporate boards helps to shape these priorities.” King added that he’s “studying this issue” — in particular, legislation introduced by Sen. Tammy Baldwin that would, among other reforms, require that one third of the membership of corporate boards be directly elected by workers.

Ringelstein: Over half.

How soon can we reestablish postal banking?

King: Said postal banking “may make a lot of sense,” and is currently reviewing legislation to reestablish it. “There are many people across the country who live in areas — rural and urban — that are underserved by conventional banks and who must rely on less reputable lenders to cash paychecks and take out small loans. Postal banking could help alleviate this problem,” he wrote.

Ringelstein: “As soon as possible,” but notes that the public still needs to better understand the idea, so more education is also necessary.

How many hundreds of billions of dollars must be cut from the military budget next year?

King: Agrees there are opportunities to realize savings in the military budget, and “strongly” supports the ongoing audit of the Pentagon budget, but is “uncomfortable with across-the-board, wholesale cuts.” Believes a “strong defense” is the “best prevention of war,” and cites a “newly militarized China, an aggressive Russia, and the constant threat of worldwide terrorism” to justify current spending levels.

Ringelstein: At least $82 billion, “because that’s what was just added” to the most recent military budget.

Do you agree that the IRS needs much more money and a lot more auditors to deter and uncover tax evasion and fraud by the rich?

King: Yes. Believes tax enforcement “more than pays for itself” by collecting “otherwise-avoided taxes.”

Ringelstein: “Definitely, yes.”

How do we bring hundreds of thousands of refugees here and help them rebuild their lives as happy and productive Americans?  

King: “[W]ith a record 65.6 million people displaced from their homes worldwide, it is clear that we have a responsibility to fully engage on this issue,” King wrote. He opposes Trump’s lowering of the cap on refugees entering the U.S., and said, “I will continue to support U.S. efforts to aid the current refugee crisis — including humanitarian funding for potential refugees in or near their home countries and resettling qualified refugees here in America.”

Ringelstein: End deportations and abolish ICE. Also “recognize we’re the richest country in the world. We all should have access to affordable housing, health care and education. Then open that up to not only our citizens, but others.”

•••

Congressional candidate Marty Grohman.

Here are District 1 Congressional candidate Marty Grohman’s responses to our questions…

Should the Federal Reserve create billions or trillions of dollars, like it did to bailout Wall Street a decade ago, to fund public projects and initiatives for sustainability and social justice?

Grohman: Seemed stumped by the question. Said he’s “worked professionally in sustainability for many years” and is “passionate about protecting the environment.”

When will you introduce legislation to levy a tax on Wall Street financial transactions, and how high should the rate be?

Grohman said he’s “passionate about shoring up Social Security and protecting Medicare” and is concerned such a tax “is likely to put people at risk, so I don’t think I’d support it.”

Stock buybacks should be illegal again, right?

“I think that successful, growing companies that strengthen themselves and are able to get ready for an inevitable rainy day, and can provide long-term careers and not just jobs, are super important to Maine’s economy, so for that reason I do not oppose stock buybacks.”

How soon can we reverse all of the Trump tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy and then increase taxes on the same?

Not soon, if ever. “We saw immediate investments in Maine companies as a result” of the tax cuts, he said, “new production lines that got placed here, instead of Switzerland, and new jobs created here.”

What tax and other financial incentives are you ready to implement to encourage the formation of more worker, producer and consumer co-ops?

“I’m really passionate about that,” said Grohman, who was the lead sponsor of a bill in the state Legislature that would have provided financial incentives for co-op formation. The bill had strong bipartisan support, but didn’t make it through the chaotic legislative process this year.

Should workers in large corporations elect just under half of their board of directors, as they do in Germany, or just over half?

Is unsure whether anything should be done to change the makeup of corporate boards. Would want to discuss this with Maine-based corporations first. “I’m certain that they [already] go a long way out of their way to have all sorts of viewpoints on their boards today.”

How soon can we reestablish postal banking?

This is “not something I’m likely to support.”

How many hundreds of billions of dollars must be cut from the military budget next year?

“I would say I’m a passionate supporter of our veterans and believe in a strong national defense and will be, unlike Congresswoman Pingree, a consistent voter on behalf of the National Defense Authorization Act.”

Do you agree that the IRS needs much more money and a lot more auditors to deter and uncover tax evasion and fraud by the rich?

“I think anything we do at the federal level, we need to do in a bipartisan manner. I think the system is broken right now and we just need to work endlessly to fix things and not fight with each other.”

How do we bring hundreds of thousands of refugees here and help them rebuild their lives as happy and productive Americans?  

“This is the No. 1 issue I hear from employers about,” he said. “We need to start with strong, secure borders, but from there we need to work together to define a clear legal path to citizenship and value the magnet for talent that America has become.”

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