Richard Holt’s family has been connected to the sea for generations. His grandfather was a ship captain sailing out of South Portland, and he is a commercial fisherman working the same harbor. He scallops and has held his lobster license since 1974.

Holt’s family also has a deep connection to the best ideals and values of Maine’s Republican Party. His mother was a political activist and founded the Portland chapter of the League of Women Voters.

It’s from this tradition that he gained his deeply held beliefs in the importance of personal responsibility and independence. When Holt built his boat with his own hands, he refused to accept a tax cut on the materials. He figured he didn’t need it and didn’t want to have to rely on anyone for anything.

As the years have gone by, an injury Holt suffered as a young man has worsened and has affected how much he’s able to fish. What has allowed him to keep working at all is the medicine and care he’s been able to access through MaineCare.

Because of Gov. LePage’s refusal to accept federal funding to continue and expand the health care program, Holt lost his coverage two weeks ago. Unless the Legislature overturns LePage’s decision, Holt may soon lose his home and his boat, and his family will lose its link to the sea.

Tom Benne has as deep a connection to the land as Holt does to the water. He owns a farm in Whitefield where he and his wife grow crops and raise some cattle.


They’re as self-sufficient as they can make themselves, and he also works for his neighbors as a handyman and doing construction. He’s proud of his own skills and that he’s never had to take his car or tractor to an outside mechanic.

Benne has had arthritis since he was 18, but he doesn’t like hospitals much and avoided going to the doctor for it.

A few years ago, though, things got so bad that by noon each day he couldn’t walk at all. Because he had MaineCare coverage, he was able to have surgery that let him walk again and get back to work. Because of LePage’s veto, he also lost his coverage at the start of this year.

Even in Maine, where residents have a reputation for working hard, Benne and Holt are more industrious than most. When you hear that accepting federal funds would provide coverage for 70,000 more Mainers, these are who those people are: folks who are right around the poverty line and mostly work hard jobs for low wages.

This number also includes veterans who are coming home and trying to make a go of it; the self-employed who are working to get a new business off the ground, and students who come from families too poor to afford insurance and who are seeking to build better lives for themselves through education.

Unfortunately, the reality of these people’s lives seems to be lost on those who are opposed to accepting federal funds and expanding coverage. It seems it’s not enough for them to deny these people health care – they have to insult them while they’re at it.


In this newspaper last week, Beth O’Connor, the chair of Maine Taxpayers United and a Republican former state representative, said about expanding health care: “Frankly, it’s a disincentive. People won’t get off their butts and try to get a job.”

Writing in the Bangor Daily News this week, Matt Gagnon, digital director for the Republican Governors Association, took things a step further and claimed that the entire proposal was a plot “to get people addicted to government dependency, because they know it will be almost impossible to break that dependency later.”

He even compared the need to provide health care coverage to a heroin addiction.

I understand why they promote these insulting caricatures. In part it’s because they have no real economic argument against accepting federal funds. The federal investment would be hugely beneficial for the state economy, with the Kaiser Foundation estimating it will save the state $690 million over the next decade and the Maine Center for Economic Policy projecting it will directly create 4,400 more jobs. This general economic boost is why tea party-backed governors across the country have already signed on.

The debate over health care in Maine isn’t some freshman philosophy class where one can throw around abstract right-wing rhetoric without fear of consequences. This is about the lives of real Maine people, and we should acknowledge who they are.

Mike Tipping is a political junkie who works for the Maine People’s Alliance. He can be contacted at:

Twitter: @miketipping

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.