AUGUSTA – The nation’s Iraq war policy dominated a debate among the three candidates for Maine’s 1st District congressional seat Thursday night, with all offering different views on an exit policy.
The three also offered diverse ideas on providing health care to more Americans, but found common ground on environmental issues that were raised during the exchange attended by about 50 people at the University of Maine at Augusta.
Asked whether the U.S. military should remain in Iraq or get out, independent Dexter Kamilewicz called for immediate withdrawal from an “illegal, immoral and cruel event.”
“The issue of cutting and running is a smoke screen,” said Kamilewicz. “We are the impediment for the Iraqis to go and take care of themselves.”
Incumbent Democratic Rep. Tom Allen, who has been critical of U.S. Iraq policy but has voted for supplemental funding for the war, called for discussions with Iraqi leaders and setting a timetable for getting out next year.
“We’ve lost our credibility because of what we’ve done there,” said the five-term congressman.
Republican challenger Darlene Curley said one year is not enough time, but a withdrawal strategy can be in place in two years.
“War is awful but here we are,” said Curley, a two-term state representative from Scarborough. “We must have success.”
Allen and Kamilewicz said they agreed with a recent U.S. intelligence report that the Iraq war is breeding terrorism. Curley said “diplomacy, diplomacy, diplomacy” is the key to addressing terrorism.
Both Allen and Kamilewicz also said they oppose the bill signed into law Tuesday by President Bush that authorizes tough interrogation and prosecution of terror suspects. Allen called it a “violation of our culture and history.”
Curley supports the law, saying, “Having detainees and prisoners of war is part of the battle we are fighting.”
Curley also supports the warrantless wiretapping anti-terrorism legislation, while Allen said he voted against it and Kamilewicz opposes it.
On health care, Allen said a plan to expand coverage is in place if Democrats win a majority in Congress in November. Kamilewicz said he favors a single-payer, universal health care system. Curley called for cost-cutting reforms such as allowing people to shop for policies as they do for car insurance.
All three candidates agreed on some issues. They all support renewal of the Endangered Species Act and oppose drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.
Allen is leading his two re-election challengers in fundraising. His campaign had nearly $834,000 through the Sept. 30 closing date for the latest federal reports, more than seven times the total $116,000 raised by Curley. Allen had $379,000 in cash on hand, while Curley had a little over $32,000.
Kamilewicz said he had raised less than $50,000.
Allen is a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which deals closely with environmental issues, and the Budget Committee.
Curley has said her qualifications are drawn from her background as a registered nurse, teacher and business owner. She lists among her legislative successes sponsorship of a law that gets drivers with suspended licenses off the highways.
Kamilewicz, who is in the property management business, has heavily stressed his opposition to the Iraq war throughout the campaign.
Thursday’s debate was moderated by David Offer, executive editor of the Kennebec Journal of Augusta and Morning Sentinel of Waterville.