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Your Vote 2014 Profile: Troy Jackson
05/09/2014   Reported By: Jay Field

Lots of politicians, in both parties, talk about lifting more Maine families out of poverty and into lives filled with steady work and reliable health care coverage. Many though, don't have Troy Jackson's intimate experience with what it means for families when those things are out of reach. Jackson, who's a logger by trade and the majority leader of the Maine Senate, is running against Emily Cain in the Democratic Primary in Maine's 2nd Congressional District. His campaign is the latest chapter in the career of an unlikely politician, known for his willingess to take on powerful opponents on behalf of Maine's most vulnerable citizens.

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Your Vote 2014 Profile: Troy Jackson Listen
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Troy Jackson

Before last summer, few people outside of Maine had ever heard of Troy Jackson (left). But last year, after Gov. Paul LePage announced his intention to veto the state budget, Jackson held a press conference. The Legislature, he pointed out, had enough votes to override the governor, who a short time later, emerged from his office in the capitol to respond.

"Sen. Jackson claims to be for the people. But he's the first one to give it to the people, without providing Vaseline," LePage said.

After months of tension between the two men, the governor's dismissal of Jackson with a crude sexual remark made national news. LePage also suggested that Jackson didn't have the brains to serve in the Legislature and would be better off back in the woods, cutting trees.

"I mean, the governor is management," Jackson says, "and that's why we clash as much as we do. Because I know, very well, who he is. I've been in the room with him my entire life."

A political career was never part of Troy Jackson's plan. Jackson, who's from Allagash, says it's a path he decided to take after a clash that has a lot in common, philosophically at least, with his battles with Gov. LePage.

Audio from Maine Things Considered archives: "Day five in the protest by Northern Maine loggers against Canadian hiring practices and no resolution in sight."

"You know, a group of us started having these meetings and trying to find out why we couldn't work in Maine, why we couldn't work hard, you know?" Jackson says.

It was 1998 and Canadian loggers were using an American agriculture assistance program to come across the border daily from Quebec to cut trees in Maine. They worked for less money than landowners were paying Jackson and other Maine loggers to cut their trees. In October, Jackson and 14 other loggers blocked the border for an entire week.

"I mean, that was a big issue," Jackson says. "You grew up with the mentality of, 'Don't challenge the man,' because he holds everything in your hand. I had landowners tell us that they'd watch grass grow up in the streets of my hometown before they'd give in to us."

When the blockade ended, Jackson and other loggers were invited to meetings with politicians, including Congressman John Baldacci and Gov. Angus King. Logger Hilton Hafford, who helped lead the blockade, says Jackson came to a realization during these meetings.

"There's where the problem was, was in the politics of it," Hafford says. "It had nothing to do with, really, business or labor. It was the politics that let it go that way."

In 2000, Jackson ran for the Maine House of Representatives as a Republican, and lost. Two years later, he won the election in District 151 as an independent. Jackson ran for the Maine Senate in 2008, winning election as a Democrat.

During his years in Augusta, Jackson has consistently sided with workers and organized labor in fights against companies and other powerful interests. If elected to Congress, Jackson says he would make jobs and economic issues his focus. He'd push to raise the federal minimum wage, end tax credits for companies that ship jobs overseas and fund a jobs act that would put people to work rebuilding the nation's infrastructure.

"He knows what it's like to lose your job early and be out of work, and how hard it is to get another one," Hafford says. "And he knows what it is for the wages we're being paid. He understands the whole thing."

Hilton Hafford says this gives Jackson a unique ability to relate to voters struggling with similar challenges. Jackson went without health care coverage before being elected to the state Legislature.

"I'm on my third pacemaker now and I know, very well, what the problems are for people that don't have health insurance," he says. "And yeah, I know what the struggles are. And I know what it's like to look at your kids and your wife and feel that anger and frustration that you're not doing what you need to do for your family."

Emily Cain is the establishment candidate in this race, not Troy Jackson. But Jackson's fine with that. He has the support of the state's powerful labor unions and a powerful personal story he hopes will inspire 2nd District voters to send him to Washington.

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