After an interview with Governor John Baldacci last week, I recently sat down with Maine's speaker of the house and one of Brunswick's state representatives, John Richardson, and posed a variety of questions relevant to the College community.

Richardson, a Democrat in his fourth term, represents the 63rd state district in Maine, which includes the southern portion of Brunswick and all of the Bowdoin campus. His role as speaker consists of presiding over and managing the daily operation of the House, and appointing members to committees. Richardson lives in Brunswick, and he and his wife, a physician, have three children.

Evan Kohn: Speaker, in your remarks to the opening session of the House last December, you said, "All speaking is part of an ongoing conversation that starts with listening." As speaker, you pledged to listen, and challenged your fellow representatives to work together and set aside their individual agendas. Have they in the past year, and are representatives working together in Augusta?

Speaker John Richardson: By and large members set aside their own personal differences to do the people's business. I think the proof of that point is that 71 percent of the bills that have come through the various bipartisan committees have been either unanimously agreed to or rejected. That's a very high number...I think that's a testament that people are listening and responding.

EK: In regards to the closing of Brunswick Naval Air Station (BNAS), you've said, "With an aggressive redevelopment plan for the base, we can position Brunswick and all of Mid-Coast Maine for a continued vibrant economic future." As a member of the Brunswick Local Redevelopment Authority (LRA), how do you envision the BNAS space in 10 years?

SJR: Well, I hope that it has a military component and a viable commercial airport?one where you might see such things as L.L. Bean transporting its air freight through BNAS on rail cars that could be connected to the distribution center. I'd like to look at creating the capacity such as in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island where lobsters would be transported by air throughout the nation. We live right in the Mid-Coast region, and you would imagine that one of the hangars and facilities of the BNAS could be converted into a wholesale seafood distribution center. I could foresee the unmanned aerial vehicle being tested here because of the large runways and unencumbered air space, and with that I could see a lot of aerospace research facilities popping up within the boundaries of the former naval air station. I could see a boat-building facility emerge on-site. The boat-building industry is that fastest-growing industry in the state of Maine. I could see workforce housing development occur, which is critical to Mid-Coast Maine. We have a shortage of affordable work force housing in the Mid-Coast region because it's a hot real estate market. Planning or preserving work force housing is essential to the future economic growth of the region. So we can look at that issue.

EK: Last week the governor said he thought Bowdoin could be "very helpful" in the redevelopment process. Other than Bowdoin Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration & Treasurer Katy Longley holding a position on the LRA, how else might the LRA use Bowdoin's creative expertise? Will faculty and students have an opportunity to participate in the dialogue?

SJR: The answer is Bowdoin is already helping. President Mills has met with the governor to discuss how Bowdoin College can be helpful to the process. Katy Longley is someone who I personally know and is probably the finest public servant or commissioner that served under former Governor Angus King. With Katy, you're getting a very high quality person who has deep roots in the community, and happens to work at Bowdoin College. So, I couldn't say enough good things about Katy, because I respect her talents and her judgment.

I think that the town is in a transition, and Bowdoin has been here for quite a long time and is not going anywhere. Certain parcels of land ought to be considered for transfer to Bowdoin College so that it can help to expand and become a more integral part of the community. That expansion might push Bowdoin beyond its liberal arts heritage. Perhaps there is another side of Bowdoin that needs to be considered, and while certainly space is something every college needs, maybe there is another mission that Bowdoin can take on to make the Mid-Coast area more vibrant and economically stable, because its in Bowdoin and the region's best interest that that be done. I look at some of the economic development initiatives that are in the bond package that we will vote on in November as a perfect place for Bowdoin to begin to consider expanding beyond its traditional role in the region. There are, with a few strokes of a pen, economic initiatives that Bowdoin can participate in, such as research. Research and development and the bond that will be considered in November are critical to Maine's future. Bowdoin, considering the human talent that exists on campus, ought to be considering how it can play a greater role in fostering economic development and research development throughout the Mid-Coast region. Whether it's in marine aquaculture and research development in that area, or whether it is in other areas, Bowdoin should begin to consider how it should take a leadership role in these initiatives.

And the third question you asked was about students and faculty. They can play a central role in fostering economic development because we all understand that it essentially spins from research development centers throughout the country. In North Carolina, look at how Duke University and Wake Forest and the University of North Carolina have helped foster a dramatic change to the region. Bowdoin is uniquely situated to act as an anchor towards research and development. It is an institution of higher learning, it has the human talent, and in some cases is already doing research and development within the campus. So this would be a logical extension of what Bowdoin could do. Although stepping outside of its traditional role as a liberal arts college, it could foster greater economic development by looking at what it does on the research and development side of the equation today and looking forward to see how it could assist the region in the future...I could foresee Bowdoin leasing space on the naval air station to expand its efforts in research development...this could bring researchers into the region to work with Bowdoin students, giving them real-life experiences.

These are just my words, but they are a challenge to the campus community to step up and determine what role they should play in the regional economic development initiative that is being considered.

EK: What do you think of Cook's Corner's recently-expanded Wal-Mart that is now a "Supercenter?"

SJR: I think Wal-Marts are inevitable, and if you watch who goes into Wal-Mart these days, you're seeing that it is a very wide sector of the Brunswick regional economy. It is a varied group of people who shop at Wal-Mart, and people are making their choices by deciding to shop there. So you can no longer discount Wal-Mart as being the 800-pound gorilla that comes in and swallows all of the small businesses throughout the region, because that is a consumer choice. Consumers are making the choice to shop at Wal-Mart. Some of us may disagree with that choice, but that is the choice they're making. The only thing I say to Wal-Mart is that you have a responsibility to the community to provide minimum wages and health benefits?that is your corporate responsibility when you live in a community like Brunswick.

EK: What potential pieces of legislation will most affect the College community in the legislature's next session?

SJR: I think that there are two that could potentially impact Bowdoin. First I'm proposing legislation in January that will create a Brunswick Redevelopment Authority, so that the current LRA will finish considering the planning and zoning of the base. The redeveloping will rest with a development authority created by state statute...A Brunswick Redevelopment Authority would be a regional authority to address the adverse economic impact [of BNAS closing]. The second is a tax reform package that could include non-profits...Tax reform is something that is on everyone's mind...There has been some talk of taxing non-profit corporations, and whether that would include non-profit educational institutions or not remains to be seen.

EK: If cuts to student aid go through with the Higher Education Act that the U.S. Senate is considering, will the Maine Legislature respond, and will it concern you?

SJR: It is a dramatic concern because we don't have enough kids in Maine going on to college. We're improving our entry rates into college. We're making dramatic improvement in how many kids are going on from high school to college. We're number one in the country in terms of those who graduate from high school, but we lag behind as it relates to those kids who go onto college. I think we're 34th in the nation with respect to the amount of kids that go on to a four-year institution from high school. And we happen to also be 34th in the nation, I think, in terms of per capita income and I think there is a direct correlation between one's education and their earning capacity. So, we need to improve the learning capacity of our young people and the most dramatic way of doing so is through post-secondary education. Our community college enrollment is up. So, too, is enrollment at our four-year institutions.

Having said that, to answer your question, the state is struggling to keep up with the Bush/Cheney cuts that have been occurring throughout the nation. And many states, including states with Republican governors, are complaining of the cuts that are being made because they leave unfunded mandates to the state. The state will not be able to plug each and every hole that the federal government creates. The sad fact is that the federal government is walking away from its commitment to its children through education and its elderly through cuts in healthcare.

We need to really consider whether or not this is the path we want to choose as a nation, or if there is some better alternative?such as the elimination of the tax cuts for the wealthiest in the country. Between my wife and I (my wife's an obstetrician and I'm a lawyer), we received the benefits of a Bush tax cut. However, we neither need it nor want it. From a social and economic standpoint, it would do this country far more good to provide the level of benefits that we've seen to move this nation forward. In the arenas of education, higher education, scholarships, loans, and in health care, and early childhood prevention of all kinds of diseases and issues of physical therapy and speech therapy and all those things that really make a difference when you're in early development?it would be far better for this nation to receive funds for those reasons than it would for John Richardson and his wife to put more money in their 401k that will never be spent and simply earn interest until the day it is divided up among our children. So we really need to have a national dialogue around what effects these tax cuts are having on 99 percent of the country. They're bankrupting us because we're living in greater debt. They're hurting those who are most vulnerable. They're not helping the economy move dramatically forward, and you have to question whether it is the right direction to go in.

So, the long way around that answer is, it will be difficult as a result of cuts from the Bush/Cheney administration for states to make up all the differences when it comes to student loans, healthcare for the elderly, and everything else. It's going to be difficult.

EK: The governor has promoted both universal broadband coverage and his creative economy initiatives a great deal. How effective have these been in working to keep more students in Maine after they graduate from College?

SJR: Two good pieces of news. We still have kids leaving, but we have greater enrollment at our four-year institutions and our community colleges than ever, which tells me more and more kids are deciding to stay here to be educated. And, the census indicated we had a net increase in migration to the state of Maine, which is a good sign. As you've probably read, the state of Maine is the oldest population in the country. Beyond your education, you need something to attract you to a certain region, and the creative economy creates opportunities and attracts bright young people to remain in the region. For instance, you look at Portland, Maine. Portland has a vibrant creative economy and is considered to be in the top 100 places to live in the country. Portland has all of the amenities of a large city and very few of the social ills associated with a large city. It has beauty and charm, and is on the coastline. It is in close proximity to Boston, and has a lot to offer. Young people are attracted to Portland because there is a lot to do there. We need to foster that kind of creative economy elsewhere in the state of Maine so more and more of our young people will be attracted to Bangor or to Bar Harbor or to Lewiston-Auburn and other locations where the economy is beginning to pick up speed.

EK: In regards to Question 1. Would you encourage students from out of state to change their registration so they can vote on Question 1?

SJR: I would encourage students who are so inclined to [oppose] the measure to consider voting [here]. Each student needs to look at the effects of registering in the state on their student loans or otherwise. But, absent any adverse impact, the answer is if you live here, if your intent is to reside here as a resident of the state of Maine, then I encourage you to register to vote and support a "no" answer on Question 1. It is something that will move Maine forward; it is an anti-business vote to support discrimination. Businesses all across the nation have these anti-discrimination rules in their corporate guidelines. We're doing nothing more than extending what has really become a norm among corporate America to the state of Maine. I think we need to send a signal that we are a state of tolerance and one that invites everyone to move to Maine.

EK: Would you like to remain speaker for long and do you have your eyes on any other offices?

SJR: Well, I'm termed out come November 2006. Maine has a four-term limit, and I'm in my fourth term as speaker. While I don't currently have anything in mind to move on to, I certainly would entertain the idea of moving into another elected office because I very much enjoy the opportunity to serve Maine people. I think there's a great degree of satisfaction that a person gets when serving in the public arena. It's a hard job, you're often criticized, and sometimes it's a thankless job. But if you're doing it for all the right reasons then it can be very, very rewarding. So, for me, I don't have any plans. However, if in the next year I become interested in something I would certainly consider it.

Look for another Evan Kohn interview with a Maine political leader in the near future.