NEWPORT – With less than a month to go, political candidates are gearing up for state and federal elections, and nowhere was that more evident Thursday than at a candidates night hosted by the Sebasticook Valley Chamber of Commerce.
The major topic was Maine’s economy, although energy costs, public transportation, research and development funding, Department of Human Services reform, health care and insurance, education and the growing number of sex offenders all were mentioned as critical issues.
Sixteen candidates – ranging from the Penobscot County sheriff to a candidate for Somerset County commissioner and one for Congress – each had a turn to explain their background and platform. Some were incumbents while others were veteran lawmakers seeking a return to office.
The SVCC represents 12 communities in two counties and fewer than 40 people attended. At least a dozen of those had direct ties to the candidates.
The small crowd didn’t deter the politicians, and one issue rang clear from the candidates’ speeches – the sluggish and stalled economy of Maine. From both Democrats and Republicans, the topics of the economy, Maine’s business climate and high taxes were discussed by every single candidate.
On the Republican side, candidates linked fiscal responsibility in Augusta with lowering taxes. Local legislator Joshua Tardy, who is actively seeking the speaker of the House position, said, “The problems in this state start and end with spending” and said Maine needed an economy that “goes forward, not backward. If we take care of fiscal discipline on a state level, Maine will be open for business.”
Douglas Smith, a Republican vying for the District 27 seat, said that the economy in northern Piscataquis and Penobscot counties “is teetering. Taxes are too high, we have high workers’ compensation rates and these are self-inflicted wounds.”
Dean Cray, also a Republican seeking his first term representing District 28, added, “People want to know where their money is being spent.”
Maine’s poor business climate was also addressed by the Democratic candidates.
Sharon Libby-Jones, who is vying to represent Hartland, Palmyra and St. Albans in the Legislature, agreed that Maine had issues. “But the only way to move forward,” she said, “is to work collaboratively.” Her view was shared by Lisa Marrache, who is seeking to be elected to Senate District 25, representing Pittsfield and Detroit.
Democrat Craig Denis, seeking the District 24 House seat, which encompasses Athens, offered a different point of view, however. “Unlike the other candidates who are trying to bring business in, I want to keep one out,” Denis said. He is running on a platform that would block the importation of out-of-state refuse and most particularly the creation of a Genpower-owned biomass facility at Athens.
Democrat Jean Hay Bright, who is challenging U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, said, “I want my country back. Truth, justice and the American way. Remember that?” She said the Iraq war is threatening the stability of America’s military and the financial future of this country. She also said it was time to install a single-payer national health care system, as well as becoming more self-sufficient in energy.
Other candidates who attended and the seats they are seeking, included:
Republicans Debra Plowman, House seat 33; Stacey Fitts, House seat 29; Glenn Ross, Penobscot County sheriff; Susan Bulay, Penobscot register of deeds; Douglas Thomas, House seat 24.
Democrats Mary Poulin, House seat 33; Jeanne Hogate, House seat 28; Bob Mealey, Somerset County commissioner; Diane Godin, Somerset County register of deeds.