BANGOR – The Green Independent Party of Maine was built on an environmental foundation, but this year its gubernatorial candidate has made health care the centerpiece of her campaign.
It’s really not much of a leap for Patricia LaMarche, who sees both issues as irrevocably linked.
The single, 45-year-old mother of two from North Yarmouth has never been shy about offering her opinions and is better known to Mainers as radio personality Genny Judge – a fearless crusader for the needy who once took up temporary residence in an Army tank to raise money for the Salvation Army.
From her perspective, a clean environment contributes to a healthy state and a healthy state needs a reliable and accessible health care plan. The daughter of retired Dr. Paul LaMarche, former medical director at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, LaMarche is advancing the creation of the Maine Healthcare Authority, a pivotal proposal in her campaign that would impose universal health care funded by a graduated payroll tax.
It would do nothing less, she says, than transform the lives of all Mainers.
“Countries that use a universal system provide better health care at less cost for more citizens than the U.S. ‘system,'” she said. “The LaMarche Healthcare Plan is a universal system.”
LaMarche would redirect federal Medicaid funds into her new system and bill the federal government for its employees living in Maine. Private businesses, where health care costs routinely run as high as 25 percent of operating costs, would pay a payroll tax of between 5 percent and 12 percent to the state depending on the number of employees. Any surplus would be absorbed by a budget contingency account.
“We pay for health care in such a dilapidated fashion and we’ve found that this is a much easier and efficient means of managing health care costs,” she said. “For example, at a small business with five or fewer employees, it would amount to a 5 percent payroll tax. For an employee earning $300 a week, that’s $15 for the employer, who might find it necessary to cut the worker’s pay to $285. But isn’t that worth never having another co-pay or another deductible? I’m telling you, we haven’t run into a business yet where it would cost more money, so the odds of people receiving lower wages are quite small.”
In addition to providing less expensive health care, LaMarche said her plan would increase state tax revenue because the new system would encourage more employers to locate in Maine, attracting more workers and increasing corporate and income tax collections.
“Health care costs are the primary reason why companies like Ford and GM go to Canada,” she said. “With our plan, they could come to Maine. And that’s where the advantage comes in. If you ask small businesses why they don’t expand, it’s always the cost of health care. That’s the No. 1 reason.”
With additional health care consumers, Maine will also need more providers than the state’s only medical school – the University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine in Biddeford – can supply, LaMarche maintains. Building on a recommendation from a 1995 report from the Maine Healthcare Reform Commission, the candidate envisions a new medical school being built. She recommends it be located at the former Bangor Theological Seminary campus or as a new addition to an existing college or university in the Bangor area.
LaMarche has grown personally and politically since her first outing as the Greens’ gubernatorial candidate in 1998, when she ran against incumbent independent Gov. Angus S. King. Running on a financial shoestring, she managed to capture 7 percent of the statewide vote – more than enough to secure the Greens’ official party ballot status in Maine.
Since then, she has studied at the University of Amsterdam and she ran as the Green Party’s vice-presidential candidate in 2004. The national spotlight was an exhilarating ride that she says provided a more mainstream political experience. Still, she remains committed to a populist approach to governing and this year has the advantage of a $400,000-plus-campaign war chest as a publicly financed candidate.
“During the vice presidential race, I stood on the floorboards where Sam Adams and Ben Franklin spoke, and I had the opportunity to speak with thousands, instead of hundreds,” she said. “At the end of the day, I think I’m fortunate to have had my experience and not the experience of having been a constantly re-elected official who is constantly being stuffed in a box in order to agree with everyone else around him. I still have a lot of integrity and my idealism. I understand what people deal with when they have to face choices like deciding how to pay the mortgage and their kids’ dental bills. The guys who are in office don’t know how to make those decisions, and that has made them lousy leaders.”
In order to distinguish herself from Republican and Democratic governing approaches, which she says too often replicate each other, LaMarche prefers bold initiatives to propel Maine into the 21st century economy. LaMarche says it’s time for those who use the state’s valuable state resources to pay the going rate. For instance, she has proposed a 1 percent tax on bottled water companies to help fund higher education and maintains the tax is similar to that paid by companies that extract oil from Alaska.
“We need to stop going to the guy who’s making $30,000 a year to pay the freight and look at who’s using some of the great resources in Maine,” she said. “That’s why I support a water extraction fee – we’re not a colony anymore.”
Although once viewed as a fringe group with a little more than 2 percent of registered voters, the Green Independent Party perceives itself as increasingly more relevant in a political landscape once dominated by the two major parties. While LaMarche still harbors concerns over radiated groceries and genetically enhanced foods and global warming, she worries a lot less about those who would label her party as “a bunch of lefties” or “far-out, eco-freaks.”
Thanks to the outrageous behavior of congressmen like Rep. Mark Foley, a Florida Republican who resigned Sept. 29 after the disclosure of his sexually explicit messages to former teenage male pages, LaMarche says Greens continue to be more in line with what Mainers seek in government.
“Once I might have been concerned about our reputation – prior to Foley,” she said. “But when faced with the two parties that confront them now, people are just grasping for someone who does not put their children at risk.”
Won 7 percent of the vote as a Green Independent gubernatorial candidate in 1998; ran as the national Green Party’s vice presidential candidate in 2004
Job: Radio personality
Education: Boston University graduate
Personal: Divorced, two children