BANGOR — Worried about health care, heating oil, education and social security, residents didn’t hesitate Wednesday night to tell U.S. Senate candidate Mark Lawrence their concerns.
And that’s just the way he likes it.
“Listening to other people’s perspectives — seeing how they face the world and how government impacts them — is a fun thing to do,” Lawrence said during the sixth in his series of statewide residents’ forums.
“People like to be listened to, and you learn more by listening to what they have to say than by reading position papers,” said Lawrence, a Democrat and leader of the Maine Senate, who is running against Republican incumbent Olympia Snowe.
Approximately 25 residents including state legislators and local Democratic Party officials decided to forgo the balmy August evening, and gathered instead at the Bangor Motor Inn to let Lawrence in on what they considered key issues.
The candidate has sponsored similar gatherings in Portland, Presque Isle, Augusta, Lewiston-Auburn and Deer Isle-Stonington. He plans to hold at least two more.
Dressed casually in khakis and sneakers, Lawrence said that earlier in the day he and three assistants knocked on the doors of several hundred residents to listen to their stories.
Across the state, people are worried about the same things, according to Lawrence, who said the high price of prescription drugs ranks top on voters’ lists.
Costs could be brought down if the federal government would negotiate with pharmaceutical companies, according to Lawrence, who called the idea “fairly radical.” The Legislature recently passed a similar proposal, he recalled.
The high price of heating oil comes down to “our relationship with the oil producing nations,” the candidate said.
Those countries are “holding us hostage” while they withhold the supply of oil, he said, pointing out that the United States sends “massive amounts of aid” to some of those countries.
Retired people should be able to receive a pension along with their Social security, according to Lawrence. “Social Security wasn’t meant as a stand-alone retirement program, but as a supplement,” he said.
The quality of education can be improved by reducing class size and increasing teacher training, according to Lawrence. “Currently, we spend less than 1 percent on the professional development of our educators,” he said.
The candidate spoke decisively about issues such as campaign finance reform, which he supports, and defense spending, which he believes could be decreased with a treaty banning nuclear arms.
He also talked about issues closer to home such as the east-west highway and the extension of I-95 into Madawaska, both of which he said would be a boon to the state’s economic development.
Acknowledging that he is indeed the underdog in the senate race, Lawrence said he hopes his personal contact with voters will make a difference.
He will conduct a poll this fall to see how he is faring, he said.
But he already knows one thing. In the U.S. senate, Maine has as much power as any other state.
“And right now, we’re not getting the influence we need,” Lawrence said, pointing out that Maine is one of the “weakest receivers” in money for veterans’ care.