Heading into what might be a tough re-election fight, U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin plans to pursue an agenda this year with a clear appeal to the moderate Mainers who may decide his fate.
The 2nd District Republican said that one of his top priorities is to crack down on sexual harassment on Capitol Hill.
Poliquin said he wants to make public the more than 250 secret settlements between elected leaders and employees who have complained about discrimination.
“We need to clean this up,” Poliquin said.
Poliquin also cited the necessity both of tackling the opioid epidemic and “to do better with the economy and jobs.”
Poliquin, who is seeking a third term in November, easily won re-election in 2016 in a district that went big for President Trump. Despite millions spent to thwart the congressman’s re-election, he wound up with better numbers than the president.
Still, polls show that Trump’s popularity has waned, and Republican lawmakers such as Poliquin may face a tough slog to hang on to their seats unless the political environment improves for them.
Last year, Poliquin came under harsh criticism from Democrats and many constituents for backing a health care measure the Congressional Budget Office said would have stripped 26 million Americans of coverage within a decade. It won approval in the House but failed in the Senate.
He also backed a controversial $1.5 trillion tax overhaul that Trump signed just before Christmas. It will slice taxes for most Mainers and hand businesses a big break, but its repeal of the individual mandate to buy health insurance is likely to increase the cost of obtaining coverage, experts say.
Six Democrats and a handful of independents are lining up to challenge Poliquin at the polls, among them Rep. Jared Golden, D-Lewiston, Bar Harbor restaurant owner Tim Rich and Katahdin Woods champion Lucas St. Clair. Democrats will pick a candidate in a June primary.
Poliquin said his focus is on doing what he can on Capitol Hill for his constituents rather than his campaign in Maine.
Trying to stamp out the discrimination that young staffers, in particular, may have experienced in congressional offices is especially important, the lawmaker said.
He said he joined with colleagues, including Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., and Rep. Barbara Comstock, R-Va., to push for new legislation.
“It’s absolutely critical that we address this,” Poliquin said.
He has called for opening the files on millions of dollars’ worth of settlements between aggrieved staffers and those they accused of unwanted sexual advances and discrimination.
There needs to be “full disclosure, full transparency and holding people accountable” who are sheltered by the secrecy of the payments made during the past two decades.
Both of Maine’s senators and its two members of the U.S. House have said they are not among the politicians who benefited from surreptitious payouts with taxpayer money.
Dealing with the opioid crisis is another goal for Poliquin.
The legislator said that government is “doing a much better job” on the issue than it was in the past, but more is needed.
“We’ve got to empower our local officials on the ground,” Poliquin said, because they’re in a better place to spot problems and offer immediate solutions.
Poliquin said that border security also plays a role.
He said 98 percent of the heroin that reaches American citizens crosses the border from Mexico while China provides most of the pills that addicts crave.
Though the economy is doing better than it has, Poliquin said, there’s still plenty of room for improvement.
He said “more people have more money in their pockets” – and the tax measure will add even more – but it’s still hard for small business to find the money to make investments that can lead to better jobs and greater productivity.
Poliquin said that when companies invest in technology, they often wind up increasing the pay of the personnel who know how to run them.
He said it’s also good to hear of companies across the country that are offering bonuses and pay hikes in the wake of the tax bill.
“That’s very positive,” Poliquin said.
Poliquin said he also plans to keep pushing for public disclosure of the assets held by Iranian leaders, despite a letter from the Department of Justice that called a bill he sponsored unconstitutional.
“I think they’re wrong,” the congressman said.
He said the measure allows a president to hold back the disclosure of anything that might hurt national security. It’s not forcing the executive branch to do anything except to put the information it already has online so that anyone, including Iranians, can see it.
The reality, Poliquin said, is that Iranians are “being ripped off” by their leaders. If they were held accountable, funding for terrorism might dry up, he said, and Iran might wind up a more free and democratic country.
Poliquin said he has a message for Iran’s leadership that he hopes will make a difference.
“Stop trying to wipe Israel off the face of the earth,” Poliquin said.
Source: Portland pressPoliquin targets sexual harassment on Capitol Hill as a re-election priority