Political Profile Austin Theriault

Published: Oct. 26, 2022 at 6:36 PM EDT
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AROOSTOOK COUNTY, Maine (WAGM) - Election day is coming up and there are several local races taking place. WAGM, with the Aroostook Partnership, begin our Political Profiles. Each candidate was given 5 minutes to answer the same 3 questions. These questions were provided ahead of time. The interviews were all done by Zoom. We begin with Maine State House District 1 between Democrat Dana Appleby and Republican Austin Theriault.

Kelly O’Mara, NewsSource 8: We’re going to go ahead and start with the first question which is, what are your top three priorities if elected, in the coming legislative session?

Austin Theriault, Candidate, State House District 1: Thanks Kelly, it’s good to be with you. When I look at priorities, there’s so many different issues that we’re dealing with as a state, but when you’re in session, I think you do have to pick things that are most important. And for me right now as I visit door to door and talk to different people in the community energy comes up. So, number one priority is there are things that come up like for example gas and heating oil that we don’t really have a lot to say as a state. With things like electricity. Electricity is not just something you pay at the end of the month, it’s something that even at the grocery store, your taxes with schools, things like that. We have to really focus on a more strategic energy policy as a state. Something that will bring down electricity costs. The other priority for me is going to be education. I think that we need a all the above approach. Trade schools, college, some people are going to go out into the work force, we obviously have major workforce issues and then the third one kind of goes together with education and trade schools is making sure that our future generations have jobs that are fulfilling or filling needs or gaps in our communities. So, from a jobs and economy stand point, that’s a really important issue that we need to focus on as well.

Jason Parent, Aroostook Partnership: Alright Austin, you have quite a bit of time left, you’ve used about a minute 45 of your time. So the next question is, What are your thoughts on population growth, or perhaps other strategies, to address our qualified employee shortages in the region?

Austin Theriault: I was born in the 90′s and I know that when Loring was around, Aroostook County was a totally different County and ever since Loring closed, we’ve really had issues with people trying to stay here and families being able to stay here. If you look at population growth, it’s unfortunately been negative. So one of the issues that I hear a lot, it’s very difficult for families to come up here and stay up here and move up here. Our cost of living is high compared to other areas of the state. I mean, we have colder winters, what we just talked about is electricity or energy policies. We need to make sure that we’re incentivizing people to make sure that they’re staying in the workforce. I know that this is a very complicated issue because there’s issues with young families, moms that are unable to go to work or what not because of child care issues. But, ensuring that our covid era policies are beginning to wind down and they already have. But we really need to incentivize people to go back into the workforce. And that might be credits for employers, things of that nature and it’s a long term problem that we’re probably going to have for the next several years. We need to start now working with different groups in the community, businesses, trying to all sit down as stake holders in our local economy to make sure that we’re not leaving anybody behind because I think once we look at, holistically, and when I say holistically, I’m talking about issues such as mental health and drug abuse and what not, these all go together. So, when people start to feel hopeless, they’re not giving back, they’re not in the work force, that’s when a lot of these issues start to come about. And so we have to look holistically to make sure people are feeling motivated, people are feeling like they can contribute to our economy and so this is going to be probably a multi legislative session that we’re going to have to tackle.

Kelly O’Mara, NewsSource 8: And you have about 45 seconds left to answer the last one. Which is, Aroostook County’s workforce participation rate continues to decline and is currently at 54% for residents 16 and older. What do you feel the barriers are to increasing this important metric and what are your ideas to reverse this trend?

Austin Theriault: Just quickly, as I spoke about before, child care is something that comes up a lot when I visit door to door with folks. But even then, at the end of the day, making sure that our young people want to stay here and our young people are motivated and have jobs that they feel like they have a future in. So, I think that this starts when people are young. I mean, the issue with some older folks that are not in the work force, there has to be some investment in job training, there’s got to be investment in those areas. Starting from a young age, letting people know that there are trade opportunities, there are opportunities for people to stay in the area. I mean, there’s jobs all around us. So, it’s just making sure people feel like there’s an avenue for them to go down and that if they do go off into the work force, it’s not actually costing them more money to go off into the work force vs either staying home with their family or not going to work at all. So, I think incentives have to be balanced and we really need to lean the scale toward incentivizing people to work instead of incentivizing people not to