EP. 65: Jared Golden, ME-02

HEATHER ATWOOD: Welcome to another edition of The MidPod. I'm Heather Atwood with Nicie Panetta. This week's candid interview is with Jared Golden. He's running for Congress in Maine's 2nd Congressional District. The district is uniquely vast, rural, and blue-collar. It's about three quarters of the state of Maine and extends high up against the Canadian border. It also includes some of the remote but beautiful U.S. coastline famously called Down East Maine. Golden grew up here. After 9/11, he left college and enlisted in the Marines serving combat tours in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Returning home he finished college at Bates and was elected to the Maine state legislature. People have described Golden as that old kind of Democrat. He's progressive on issues like women's reproductive rights, gender-based discrimination, and paid family leave, but many of his constituents are hunters and his position on gun rights respects that. Golden's aisle-crossing work is so well-regarded his most recent campaign ad features him and a Republican state senator sharing beers. The Republican senator says that he won't support his own party's candidate, Bruce Poliquin, because of his vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

JARED GOLDEN: My name is Jared Golden, 36-year-old state legislator from Lewiston, Maine. I've been serving in this community for the last four years I'm also the House assistant majority leader for the last two years here in Maine running for Congress to represent the entire 2nd congressional district this is the largest congressional district east of the Mississippi River. So we got a lot of people a lot of ground to cover here. Great great state. I live in the big city which is about 36,000 people here in Lewiston so probably a town by some people's standards. But I grew up in rural Maine, Leaves, Maine small town of about 1800. When I got out of high school, I went to the University of Maine Farmington that's the place you go in Maine if you want to be a schoolteacher. I wanted to teach history. I was there just a couple of weeks when 9/11 happened. I finished out my my year there and then found myself facing a decision chose to leave the university I enlisted in the Marines in 2002 and served until 2006 with a deployment to Afghanistan in 2004, Iraq in 2005 and 06 and I was a infantry assault man. So I handled a tube it's what we call it. That's an 80 miller meter rocket launcher and did some door breaching and things of that nature.

HEATHER: You toured in Afghanistan and then Iraq and I understand you went back there after to teach right in Afghanistan after the service? There was something calling you there right?

GOLDEN: You know sometimes I talk about it in generalizations because it's hard to tell the whole story. I you know I certainly loved my deployment to Afghanistan I think it was my best because it was up in the mountains on the Pakistani border pretty much with you know a platoon plus you know highest ranking guy in our base camp was our lieutenant. And it's a beautiful landscape, rugged mountains. Something about the place I kind of loved you know and it's also what caused me to serve was was after 9/11 going to Afghanistan. I later had an opportunity when I got out of the Marines and I went to Bates College here in Lewiston. My one of my close friends was an Afghan. His father was in the Afghan army. He ended up coming to America to go to college and through him I had an opportunity to go be a volunteer teacher at a school for the summer in Kabul the capital of Afghanistan. But interestingly it was a nonprofit. And when I got there I think I was there for maybe a week. And the gentleman that was running it was a retired oh I don't remember his rank, he retired out of the military, fought in Vietnam, and had made some money in business and was spending his retirement years running this school. And he's he left me basically in charge because he was going back to the U.S. to do fundraising. That wasn't the plan and I thought I was going over there to teach but I became instead basically like the school principal or the administrator. I was running running the school, running the dormitory, making sure that everyone was getting fed you know three square meals and being taken care of.

HEATHER: And these were Afghanistani kids who boys I assume?

GOLDEN: These were Afghan boys and girls. In some ways men and women they ranged in age from I would say 10 to 25. So it wasn't an all-day school. This was for people who came out of their public school system and chose to come to get that extra training to prepare for the international examinations and things that would help them ultimately be competitive and hopefully getting into college themselves.

HEATHER: So let's talk about your time at the state legislature. First of all what how did you land there?

GOLDEN: That is a good question as well. None of these are easy for me because it's just my life has always been you know a series of things that lead you down a certain path unexpected and I after Bates went back to work in the Middle East. I thought I wanted to get into international development. I worked for a freight forwarding company over in Afghanistan and Iraq. I did a lot of contracts with USAID State Department and other agencies doing work over there and decided that I you know I realized one day I had spent most of my 20s in the Middle East and maybe it was time to start spending more time back home building my life here and I got a job working for Senator Susan Collins on the Senate Homeland Security Committee staff down in Washington and advised her on veteran's affairs issues as well. But I remember in the interview she asked me where will you be five years from now. And I said well Senator what I've learned about life is whatever I think I may be I won't be there. And you know she she got a kick out of that and I mean what I said often I don't you know I didn't know where I would be at that time. I could have told her I guess that I'd be a state representative back home in Maine. But I had no idea.

GOLDEN: I came back to Maine after two years working for her. I really just wanted to be home in Maine. This place has a draw for many people. You know you go away but you come back and I wasn't here very long. And just by chance there was a senator who stepped down because of an illness in her family in a state representative here in Lewiston that ran for that Senate seat and there was a last minute vacancy that required someone to step up. They encouraged me to do it. You know it was a typical kind of reaction I think for many people particularly in a state with a citizen's legislature it was like, "You're crazy. You know I can't do that. That's not part of the plan." But with enough people are kind of pushing me to do it and seeing the opportunity to do something what else could I have done with my life these last four years as a 32 to 36-year-old man where I've been able to do things like create beds for homeless veterans, reform of the main bureau of veterans services. I've changed laws to help firefighters and first responders also struggling with post-traumatic stress and make it easier for them to get care. I just don't know how I could have had that kind of impact if I hadn't done this.

HEATHER: What were the first couple weeks on that floor like for you? How did that feel just to realize that you actually could have the I don't know the seat to make differences?

GOLDEN: For me I think it was about trying to shift gears from someone that had worked in politics on the staff side to being an elected official and figuring out the difference there. And you know there's an important lesson I often talk about myself in this day and age people ask me you know what kind of Democrat are you. Are you a progressive or conservative Dem you know are you a blue dog are you a you know whatever it may be, and I always say progressive heart and pragmatic approach to delivery and getting things done because that's what the job is about at the end of the day. But something that I didn't learn about the difference between staff side of politics representing our community is that gut check of knowing that every vote you cast has an impact on the people that you represent. It becomes very real when you're the representative and your every decision is going to have an impact on someone's life back home in your district.

HEATHER: Do you want to spend any time talking about your experience with Susan Collins because that was kind of a bipartisan situation for you right? And you talk about working across the aisle I believe.

GOLDEN: No absolutely I'm happy to do that I get. I mean in a Democratic primary I can tell you a lot of people ask me know wait a minute didn't you work for United States Senate Republican here in Maine and why are you talking about that, as I'm very happy to talk about it. I respected Senator Susan Collins' hard work I can tell you she works very hard I advised her on homeland security issues. I worked on FEMA grants to help state states and localities fire departments, police departments. You know I looked into things like bird flu influenza and the response to you know those types of pandemic outbreaks. Working with her on veterans issues I mean could you get a more bipartisan line of issues to work really hard hard worker. I can tell you that.

HEATHER: I've heard some people talk about how different people who have served our country in the military moving into politics and talk about how different services in government you can't just give orders. So have you has struck you at all in your time in the legislature?

GOLDEN: Yeah no absolutely you gotta to lead by example. That's that's one thing. And you can't just give orders that is that is true. That's true in most things outside of the military. It's a different world. But again I always go back to those values. I have managed in four years with Democratic control of the main House and Republic control of the main Senate to pass about a dozen plus laws and some of them pretty meaningful and I think I did that by pushing real hard working a lot of people. No one will no one drove you know allies or constituents crazier than I do once I throw myself into trying to pursue something to change the law or bring some new resources back to my community or another. But I think it was also about a willingness to work with people, accept compromise, and you know not worry about credit. There's one particular law that I passed I'm very proud of where at the end of the day in order to get that unanimous vote that it ultimately received I had to relieve a little bit of a building person pressure in what we did was we gave an amendment to a Republican House member to offer an amendment on the House floor, kind of created that aura you know that feeling that OK this is this is a bipartisan thing and this isn't about you know who got it done but that we all got it done together.

HEATHER: Could you describe for our listeners basically the story. Maine has a very specific health care story right now. And I think it's really specifically struggling because of that. I mean it's not it has decided not to vote, well the people voted to expand Medicaid, but the governor has vetoed it. And I've talked to a couple of people in health care in these community health care centers and there it's there's a lot of pressure on them.

GOLDEN: Yeah this is a big rural state like we've talked about. We are the oldest state per capita average age here. I mean we're we're an old state and that means we need more health care. And it also means that access becomes increasingly harder particularly as you get more rural. So a lot of the challenges and struggles it's hard. Our workforce shortages across the board but particularly in the health industry are quite severe, nursing shortages, physician shortages, healthcare providers, and hospitals are really struggling to make ends meet to to keep those doors open. Often losing money and the reason why they are trying to keep those doors open is to preserve access to care in rural communities. For years they have been clamoring for the state to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act and saying you know not only are we struggling to make ends meet and continue to provide these services but we're leaving federal dollars on the table. One way that I like to talk about this is Maine taxpayers pay federal income tax.

GOLDEN: That money is helping to provide expanded Medicaid access to people in other states. But we're not taking advantage of that here in Maine to handle our own health care problems and struggles so I think it was always a mistake the governor of Maine vetoed Medicaid expansion bills some put forward by Republicans always supported it on a bipartisan basis to land on his desk. Five times he vetoed it. We never had the votes to override that veto. And finally voters took care of this on their own. I think this is a really important story for this campaign because in May of 2017 Congressman Bruce Poliquin voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act, voted for massive cuts to Medicaid. One in five people in the state of Maine are on Medicaid. Republicans often, not all of them, some of them try and talk about that program as oh it's just lazy, able-bodied people that don't want to work for a living and they want free healthcare. Nothing could be further from the truth in in most cases here in the state of Maine in fact many of our elderly in nursing homes Medicare covers you know parts of their care but not others and they rely on Medicaid to keep them themselves housed and cared for. That's just one of many examples but one in five people in the state using Medicaid, he voted for severe cuts to that program.

HEATHER: Let's go on and as I said before I would love to speak to someone who is a shipbuilder at Bath ironworks or union person there but I've heard you say some you have some some thoughts about the issues with labor in this country and workers in this country. Do you want to talk about that a little bit? And this is not a right to work state, right Maine?

GOLDEN: There you know this is not a right to work state. There's been repeated efforts ever since 2010 when Governor LePage was elected to pass right to work legislation and we've always managed to put that to rest. A lot of our union brothers and sisters call that the right to work for less. And I agree with that. When I look around the state of Maine at the jobs that remain that are good middle class jobs with good reasonable affordable benefits and I think affordable is the key there, right? I mean almost all employers offer health care but you know how much of your paycheck is it eating up and what's it doing to a household. So those good middle class jobs that remain are usually union at the shipyard at Bath Iron Works in the mills whether it be firefighters, steel workers, you know the the nurses, or our machinists and others down that Bath Iron Works they're fighting to make sure that you know that the profits of those businesses aren't being pulled off on the backs of the very people that are doing the labor to produce the product and the profit.

HEATHER: I would love to ask you to actually describe the district for me believe it or not like because I need one person to say that really well and I think that should be you. And then let's talk about anything that you feel like we should add to this.

GOLDEN: Well big district so I mean we could we could really get into it. But from here in Lewiston which is very near to the southern tip of this district, and like I said this is the big city. If I drive about six and a half hours north in my truck I'll be in Madawaska which is up on the Canadian border. Beautiful beautiful you know farm kind of area up there you know that's where we still have some paper mills and other things going on up there in Madawaska as well in other places in between. But it's a very big district. East to west, you can go from Eastport to Fryeburg again we're talking five or more hours. It is a big area and very much a small town. That's why I still believe that you can go out there and just have kind of a high intensity a low visibility campaign that's focused on meeting people. You know ways of making a living different but not all that different. So you know we've got a lot of fishing, everyone everyone associates Maine with lobsters and our lobster fisheries. You know we get a lot of work in the forest products industry, a lot of farming. We talk about very rural areas with you know hundreds of people living there and right up to Lewiston where we have 36,000, Auburn across the river 18,000, that's that's a big community here.

HEATHER: That was Jared Golden, Democratic candidate for Maine's 2nd Congressional District. If you want to know more about Golden and his campaign, head to JaredGoldenforCongress.com. If you want to hear more about Maine's 2nd Congressional District, head to Episode 56 of The MidPod. The most important election in our lifetime is just weeks away. If you can, we encourage you to support any of the candidates we've highlighted this year. Many of them have served our country already and they are all standing up to serve this country again, this time in Congress. Thanks for being active citizens. We'll see you next week.

Eunice Panetta