Westbrook, MAINE – As the Maine Republican primary for governor heats up, one candidate – Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason - is running further to the right than most. During a Republican gubernatorial forum in Palmyra this past Saturday, Mason launched into an ideological tirade against the government, going so far as to take aim at a program that helps feed tens of thousands of Maine kids through free or reduced-price lunches at schools.
“You know who believes that the government should control society? Karl Marx. Karl Marx and communism - they thought the government could control society. It’s failed everywhere it's been tried,” Mason said. “The way you fix society is not by providing breakfast, lunch, and dinner at school; it’s not by providing every social program under the sun through the government.”
Maine Democratic Party Chairman Phil Bartlett issued the following statement in response:
“As a direct result of Governor Paul LePage’s policies, more children in Maine are poorer and hungrier – and now Garrett Mason wants to make it worse by attacking a successful program that helps feed kids at school.
“Tens of thousands of Maine children rely on these meals to help them through the day, and in some cases, these meals might be the only thing they have to eat that day. It’s not only wrong, it’s harmful to deprive them of that.
“This might be a good talking point for LePage’s far-right conservative base, but it’s a terrible, destructive idea that will only hurt Maine children in the end.”
According to Full Plates, Full Potential – an organization dedicated to ending childhood hunger in Maine – the National School Lunch Program is the state’s second-largest food and nutrition program and helps provide meals to more than 187,000 children in Maine public schools. Additionally, approximately 95 percent of Maine’s school participate in the program. The organization says that receiving free or affordable lunches helps reduce food insecurity, obesity rates, and poor heath and is critical to helping children learn.
Mason’s opposition to the program comes at a time when Maine ranks third in the nation for the rate of hunger, with a studying indicating last year that Maine’s rate of hunger remains stubbornly high even while the rest of the nation’s fell. In fact, of the thousands of people surveyed, nearly 90 percent of them were children, seniors of people with disabilities – many of whom said they were kicked off food assistance by then-DHHS Commissioner and now candidate Mary Mayhew. It also comes as data indicates that more Maine children are now living in poverty than before the recession.