September 24, 2012

Off the Trail: Blue-collar workers seek candidate who'll make life less of a struggle

Money issues, from personal earnings to social spending, are critical to some making a living in the fishing industry.

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.

click image to enlarge

Adam Trussel, a lobster packer from Alna, says he’s undecided about the presidential election and not even sure he’ll vote on Nov. 6, but if he does, it will be for the candidate most likely to lower his taxes.

Photos by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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Mike Baudanza, a lobsterman from Thomaston, says the presidency of Ronald Reagan has made him a longtime Republican voter.

Gabe Souza

Additional Photos Below

OWLS HEAD - If class warfare becomes a fault line in the presidential election, 21-year-old Adam Trussel stands squarely on the breaking point.

Trussel, a 21-year-old laborer from Alna, makes his living packing lobsters. He works for a little more than $10 an hour -- "it's better than McDonald's," he says -- and two weeks ago he logged 84 hours at Atwood Lobster Co. at Spruce Head. The week before that, he worked about 60 hours.

"It's just ridiculous," said Trussel, a burly, bearded young man whose stature suggests he's not afraid of working hard.

His job entails packing live lobsters into insulated boxes, sealing and preparing them for shipping either by truck or plane.

Trussel, a Democrat, hasn't made up his mind about the election. He's not even sure he's going to vote. He's more concerned about getting a good night's sleep and being able to take some time off than he is about politics.

But he knows one thing: If he goes to the polls Nov. 6, he's voting for the candidate who has the best chance of lowering his taxes. Every dime matters.

In Maine, incomes are headed in the wrong direction. According to latest figures from the U.S. Census, the state median household income dropped by 7.7 percent from 2007 to 2011; the number of unemployed people increased by 43 percent; and the number of people living in poverty was up 15 percent.

Those figures mirror national trends.

Along Maine's midcoast, in the heart of some of the state's best lobstering grounds, the election is playing out on the wharves, on the boats and in the packing plants.


On one side of the issue is 63-year-old Adrian Hooydonk of Spruce Head. He's already retired from two careers -- from the Coast Guard and from teaching vocational school. But he cannot afford to stay retired.

These days, he buys lobsters for Ship to Shore Lobster Co. in Owls Head. He's up at 4 a.m., to work a half-hour later and home again at 6, 7 or 8 at night, depending on when the last boat off-loads its catch.

"I'm the first of the middlemen in the chain of middlemen," he said in a thick Dutch accent, owing to his upbringing in the Netherlands.

He's a solid supporter of President Obama, because he believes Obama cares more about people like him and because he fears the direction the country will turn if the tea party gains more traction. "The poor, the elderly and the sick are going to be screwed big time," he says.

As he talks, Hooydonk unloads 3- by 8-inch planks that are 20 feet long from the bed of his pickup. His arms are scratched and bloodied from his labor. He spent $1,700 on lumber to replace the deck of his private wharf. When he replaced this same deck 15 years ago, it cost less than half as much.

He can barely keep up with the rising costs of everything, and worries for himself and his neighbors about the price of food and gas heading into winter. "People are starving," he said.

On this peninsula, low-grade unleaded gas costs $4.15 a gallon -- a good 15 cents higher than up the road on Route 1.

Since he moved to the United States in 1972, Hooydonk has always found work, and isn't averse to cobbling together jobs. In the past, in addition to his two careers, he's owned interest in a commercial fishing boat, caught lobster, plowed snow, worked as a handyman for summer folk and cooked professionally.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Adrian Hooydonk unties lumber from his pickup truck last week at his home in Spruce Head. The lobster buyer doesn’t approve of everything President Obama has done, but blames Republicans for being obstructionist.

Gabe Souza


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