September 3, 2012

Off the Trail: Early jolt shapes worker's priorities

By Bob Keyes bkeyes@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Another in a weekly series on what Mainers across the state say about the race for the White House -- and what they want from the next president.

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Roland Leclerc says he’ll vote for the candidate who’s able to unite politicians behind a common goal.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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PENOBSCOT - As a teenager, Roland Leclerc watched as both parents, an aunt and an uncle all lost their shoe-factory jobs in Berlin, N.H., when their employer moved the work offshore.

The job losses felt devastating not just to Leclerc's family, but to the community as a whole. In time, his parents ended up back on their feet, and Berlin mended from the economic and psychological blows.

But Leclerc was a changed man.

The prism through which he viewed the world shifted.

His first lesson about the complex relationships among local, national and international economies hardened him to harsh realities.

He has been politically aware and active ever since and has never passed up an opportunity to vote for a candidate at the local, state or national level.

Very likely, how he chooses to vote in November will reflect the sensibilities that he began forming when he was a kid growing up in Berlin.

Leclerc is 55 now, and lives a comfortable, working-class life with his wife, Marie, and their black Lab, Princess. A union man through and through, he works as an electrician at the local paper mill in Bucksport. He's worked there 36 years. His wife delivers the U.S. mail on a rural motor route.

They have two grown children, one living in Augusta and the other in Portland. Both received a public education, all the way through college.

Leclerc is a Democrat and proud of it. "But a lot of stuff the Democrats do, I don't believe in," he says. He has voted for Republicans in the past, including for George W. Bush in 2000.

He is a man of contradictions, who defies stereotypes or easy labels.

He buys American and goes out of his way to find American-made products even if it means he has to go without until he finds what he wants made on U.S. soil. Among his vehicles is a Subaru Outback, which he bought because it was built in the United States. He favored another Subaru model, but decided against it because it was made in Japan.

He bristles at the number of handouts given to people, but gladly supports spending tax dollars on policies that help people who truly need help -- and he readily admits that he hopes to avail himself of entitlements due him when he retires in his next decade.

He likes to hunt and fish, and is a past member of the National Rifle Association and the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine. He gave up his NRA membership because of its support of Bush in the 2004 presidential election, even though he voted for Bush himself four years earlier.

He supports alternative energy, and calls attention to the solar panels on his roof. He considers himself an ardent environmentalist and knows to the penny how much he pays for every kilowatt of energy his pool and hot tub consume. He apologizes for the amount of driving he does because of the gasoline he burns.

He buys his food locally whenever he can. He investigates the source of his food before he buys it, and tries to seek out food that is grown and raised without chemicals or hormones. He and his wife make a monthly pilgrimage to Portland to load up at the city's health-food stores.

The upcoming election is very much on his mind. He cannot imagine voting for Mitt Romney because he doesn't like him and probably doesn't trust him. He believes the single biggest issue facing the United States is the national debt, and admits that President Obama probably is not the best candidate to deal with it.

He will watch the debates and read the policy papers of both candidates and their running mates before he makes up his mind. But he is leaning toward Obama.

"Romney will have to give me a better plan than he has so far," he says, adding that, "I'll still listen."

He favors Obama because he thinks he is intelligent and measured. "I think he's a calm and steady leader, and that's what I like to see," Leclerc says.

The debt problem in this country is related to manufacturing, he says. He wants a president who will provide leadership on issues that result in more things being made in the United States. He's far more concerned about trade agreements than most other topics that will generate the loudest debates in the election, because he believes trade agreements that leave the United States at a competitive disadvantage lead directly to job losses and a lack of productivity, and to more debt.

That issue has been on his mind since his parents' jobs went to foreign laborers who were working for pennies.

"The problem is, we don't make things anymore," he says, and tells a story about searching long and hard online before finding a set of replacement steak knives that were forged in the United States. "We need to make stuff. We can't have the world make everything for us."

He's a big fan of alternative energy, such as wind, tidal and solar power, because alternative energy creates jobs and reduces dependence on foreign and dirty energy. He also likes clean water and healthy forests, and blames much of the environmental problems in Maine on coal-fired plants in the Midwest.

He voted for Bush in 2000, but Bush lost him when he loosened environmental standards and waged war in Iraq. "I would have gone to Afghanistan myself if they had asked me," he says, "but Iraq was just ridiculous."

He's tired of politicians -- and media outlets -- who reduce issues to slogans, and wants to hear a candidate talk about long-range goals. Too often, campaigns focus on short-term, immediate issues. He admires candidates who have the courage to admit that we are in for tough times and are willing to think about long-term solutions.

He blames the corporate mentality for influencing politicians to seek immediate fixes. They don't exist, he says.

Instead of worrying about what the next quarter will bring or what the next jobs report looks like, he wants to think about solutions that might be four, six or eight years away. That's how he and his wife operate their house.

He's years away from retirement, but has a plan in place to get there. "We think about what our life is going to be like five, 10 or 20 years from now," he says.

The government needs to do the same thing, and to do that, politicians must work together. And getting politicians on the same page united in a common goal comes down to leadership. That's what will motivate his vote.

Right now, Obama is his guy. He'll give Romney a chance. But Obama seems better able to lead, he says -- and he'd feel much better about his vote if Obama would take a page from Bill Clinton and engage in more conservative spending practices. "I'd gladly pay more taxes, but I want spending controlled," he says.

He didn't like the bailouts that Obama helped enact, but he understands why they were necessary. Now it's time to cut back spending and come up with a plan to deal with the debt.

Despite the challenges, Leclerc remains bullish on America. He saw his parents and his hometown recover from a devastating blow. He believes in America, and believes Americans can do better.

"I feel optimistic in some ways. I'd like to see more working on things. I'd like to see the rhetoric turned down a little. I'd like to see more conversations on things we agree on," he says.

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or:

bkeyes@pressherald.com

Twitter: pphbkeyes

 

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