News Feature

Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, June 25, 2020
Q & A with Julie Eaton and Genevieve McDonald
Two lobster boat captains vying for Democratic nomination for state rep

Primary Election 2020 Archive
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by Leslie Landrigan

It isn’t often that two women lobster boat captains run for office, let alone against each other in a primary. Julie Eaton of Deer Isle is challenging incumbent Genevieve McDonald of Stonington for the House District 134 seat. To delineate the differences between the two candidates, we have asked each of them to answer the following questions.

Please give Gov. Mills a letter grade (A to F) for her handling of the COVID-19 crisis and explain why.

McDonald: Governor Janet Mills deserves an A grade for her handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. She has done a remarkable job of keeping Mainers safe and I am thankful to have a governor who prioritizes science and public health. It has undoubtedly not been an easy task, these are unprecedented times and our Governor has risen to the challenge.

Eaton: I would have to give her an A, and the reason being that we’re dealing with an unprecedented situation here that there is no guidebook for. She really had to punt in a hurry to try to keep us safe. I think she did remarkably well. Without her guidance we would have had more cases. Hindsight is always 20-20, and now that we’ve been through this we can do better next time.

Budget cuts are coming. What can the state least afford to cut? Most afford to cut?

McDonald: In times of extraordinary hardship and economic suffering, it is particularly damaging to cut social services, especially those which serve children and the least affluent families. If I had to make cuts, I’d look first at the state’s tax expenditures, especially those that benefit only the wealthy. I am hopeful we will not need to make budget cuts, but we will need to be considering new initiatives and legislation through the lens of the economic impact of the pandemic.

Eaton: MaineCare. Health care. If they need to save money they need to go after blatant abuse of the welfare system.

What state agency or service is most in need of reform and why?

McDonald: The Maine Department of Labor Bureau of Unemployment Compensation is in need of reform. From my experience helping hundreds of Mainers apply for unemployment benefits it has become clear to me there are systematic and structural weaknesses within the program.

Eaton: Health and Human Services, I’m still hung up on that little girl who slipped through the cracks and was killed. That deserves attention. There needs to be more workers in the field. We can’t let that happen again. Our children are our future and they deserve our protection.

What is the single greatest threat to the island’s fishing industry?

McDonald: Climate change. Nearly every issue the industry is facing can be attributed to changing environmental conditions. Right whales were making a slow but steady recovery until their primary planktonic food source shifted into the Gulf of St. Lawrence and led to the unusually high mortality events that placed additional pressure on the fisheries and the species. Changing environmental conditions are also creating instability in lobster settlement and species distribution.

Eaton: Misplaced lawsuits concerning Maine lobstermen that have nothing to do with our fishermen.

Should the state be trying to manage the supply of lobster with such rules as a 400-trap limit to keep prices up?

McDonald: I do not support a 400-trap limit for any reason and it is not the government’s role to manage the economics of the industry. If we reach a point where we are landing lobster and there is no market and lobster are dying on the docks then we have a resource issue. At that point the Department of Marine Resources will need to have conversations with the industry about how to move forward in a way that protects the health and sustainability of the resource.

Eaton: Definitely not.

Do you favor the 40-trap trawl requirement to protect the right whale?

McDonald: No. To protect right whales we need binational policy and research collaboration focused on learning the North Atlantic right whale’s adaptive migration patterns based on oceanographic conditions that best support their primary prey. Instead we have outdated research and federal litigation that places the burden of risk on Maine and unfairly threatens the lobster fishery.

Eaton: Definitely not. It endangers our fishermen and our crews.

Are you in favor of offshore windmills to solve the climate crisis?

McDonald: I voted in opposition to LD 944, the legislation that directed the Public Utilities Commission to approve the long-term contract with Maine Aqua Ventus, but I was not on the prevailing side and this project is moving forward. It will be imperative to have people at the table to effectively advocate for the fishing industry in terms of placement of both the turbines and the infrastructure. I have participated in extensive conversations with the Governor’s Energy Office and will continue to be engaged in these discussions.

Eaton: No I’m not. They take up our bottom. They could actually be on the three-mile line. I have testified against them.

What should the state do to end hunger on the island, if anything?

McDonald: Ending food insecurity, especially for our children, should always be a priority. One of the programs I am excited about is the Mainers Feeding Mainers program coordinated by the Good Shepard Food Bank and supported by an allocation from the Legislature. Mainers Feeding Mainers is a partnership with farmers and fishermen to connect Maine families in need with fresh and nutritionally balanced Maine-harvested food. I am also always available to assist families in our district who may need help navigating applications for SNAP, TANF or free and reduced school lunch.

Eaton: They need to fund our schools well. I like the fact that we’ve been able to feed our children through the bus system delivering our food. I know what it’s like to go hungry and I don’t want our children to go through that—the ache, the heartache, of not being able to concentrate and the stigma that comes with not having enough to eat.

What do you hope the Black Lives Matter protests will accomplish in Maine?

McDonald: The Black Lives Matter protests happening across Maine are initiating discussions about racism, privilege and bias. Not all of these discussions are comfortable. It is especially challenging addressing issues of racial injustice in a state with limited diversity. But these conversations are important and they need to take place, we can no longer turn away. We must come together collectively and provide a space for people to unravel this topic, to ask questions, and to not be afraid of getting it wrong. I firmly believe we move forward through education and understanding. Black Lives Matter. The voices of indigenous, black and people of color matter. We need to listen to them. This is how we affect positive long-term change both in our communities and in the policy we enact in the Legislature..

Eaton: I would like to see these Black Lives Matter protests start a dialogue because you can’t force anybody to not be racist. You have to educate and you have to have a conversation. That’s how people learn about anything. You can’t cram it down their throat, they’re going to throw it up.

Julie Eaton

Julie Eaton.

Penobscot Bay Press file photo
Genevieve McDonald

Genevieve McDonald.

Photo by Leslie Landrigan