Harpswell Neck business owner and activist Cheryl Golek wants to find solutions to housing and worker shortages in the state.
“If we want to rebuild our workforce, we need to see our labor shortage and our housing shortage as a crisis in our state – together. They feed off each other,” Golek said.
Housing was a priority for Golek before his campaign. But during the election campaign, she hears more about housing than any other issue.
“Everyone is talking about it,” she says. “Everyone has a kid or a neighbor or someone in the community (for whom) either the rent is crazy, or they’re struggling, or they live with their family.”
She knocked on the doors of modest homes with six to eight adult residents who live together “because they can’t find housing or can’t afford housing on their own,” she said.
Golek cited a Maine State Housing Authority statistic that in Cumberland County, 66% of households cannot afford the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment.
The lack of housing affects issues such as health care and the economy, according to Golek. In Harpswell, for example, the housing crisis is contributing to a labor shortage.
For years, Golek said, she watched fishermen leave Harpswell “because they couldn’t afford to live here”.
Golek is feeling the effect on the job herself as co-owner of The Vicarage by the Sea, a home for people with dementia. The Vicarage “lost some really good employees just because they couldn’t afford to live close enough to where they work,” she said.
Golek supports abortion rights and current Maine law, which allows abortion “before viability” and, if necessary to preserve the health of the mother, after viability.
“If it could be strengthened by being a right enshrined in our constitution, I would fully support it,” Golek said.
“It really shouldn’t be a decision for me or anyone else, and it definitely shouldn’t be part of the political conversation,” Golek said. “It should remain a right.”
As a lawmaker, Golek would seek to include the lobster fishery in deliberations on laws or regulations that affect the livelihoods of lobsters. She said she would always support the fishing community.
“Unfortunately, most of the regulations that currently affect the lobster fishery are federal regulations,” Golek said, such as those by NOAA Fisheries that seek to reduce the number of buoy lines to protect right whales – despite the admission regulators that they have never linked the death of a right whale by entanglement in Maine lobster fishing gear.
The state government is opposing these regulations in court, and Golek said she will “always fully support the state” in opposing federal regulations that harm the fishery.
As for inflation, Golek wants to examine whether the state can limit “price gouging” on basic necessities like gas and rent.
“How can we set a limit on how much can be increased at a time? Is this possible at the state level? I think we can affect that,” she said.
Golek has near total hearing loss and communicates through a combination of hearing aids, lip reading and captioning. She wants to help the State House make proceedings more accessible to people with disabilities, not just people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
As the Legislature reverts to pre-pandemic protocols, it wants to continue allowing testimony through technology like Zoom, which makes hearings accessible to people with disabilities and workers who might not otherwise be able to attend a weekday hearing in Augusta.
Golek said she knocked on more than 3,000 doors in the district and spoke to thousands of people, including Republicans and independents.
“I consider being a district representative to be an advocate for the district, so it’s important for me to make sure I listen to the people who live in the district,” she said.
Golek grew up in poverty in the Cook’s Corner area of Brunswick. Today, she uses her first-hand experience with poverty and social services to advocate on poverty-related issues.
As a member of the Equal Justice Partners Circle, she has testified before legislative committees. She recently served on the Legislature’s Commission to Increase Housing Opportunities in Maine by Studying Zoning and Land Use Restrictions.
“I was an advocate for these issues for years, long before I decided to run for office,” Golek said. “I am ready to do the hard work. I introduce myself.
She first moved to Harpswell in 1986 and settled there permanently around 1995. She and her partner, Johanna Wigg, founded The Vicarage by the Sea in 1998 and live on the property. Golek has two adult sons and two young daughters.
“It sounds corny, but I’m running as a state representative to give back to a community that has given me so much my entire life,” she said.