ELLSWORTH — Six candidates for state House and Senate seats met Tuesday night for a forum where incumbents cited their records and challengers offered their visions for a healthier, more prosperous Maine.
They also, collectively, hewed to generally understood and accepted party positions — Democrats favoring an increase in the minimum wage, for example, with Republicans opposed (or, in one case, supporting a smaller hike).
Referendum questions about guns and marijuana also elicited responses from the Senate candidates that might be expected, based on their party affiliation.
Candidates said they would be willing to work with legislators in the other party, however, and those who are currently serving in Augusta pointed to their records of bipartisanship as evidence of that.
On the State Senate side, Democrat Moira O’Neill of Surry is challenging Republican State Sen. Brian Langley of Ellsworth. They were the second act of the forum, which was held at City Hall in Ellsworth.
O’Neill cited her background in nursing and education and said the Legislature’s failure to expand Medicaid (MaineCare) was a primary reason she decided to run. Langley voted against the expansion.
Langley said as a business owner and former longtime educator and as someone who prides himself on listening and learning in order to make decisions, he is “uniquely qualified” to represent Senate District 7 (which covers most of Hancock County, including Ellsworth, Blue Hill and Mount Desert Island) in Augusta.
The candidates were asked about issues Mainers will be voting on in November, including Question 3, which would expand background checks on gun sales and transfers.
O’Neill said she believes the exceptions provided for in the law regarding transfers are sufficient. She said states that have adopted this type of law previously have fewer suicides, fewer domestic violence deaths and fewer police officers killed by guns.
“It may not prevent crimes, but it will save lives,” she said, stating she looks at it from a public health perspective.
On the subject of marijuana, Langley said he is opposed to legalizing recreational use of the drug. He said his time in the classroom convinced him marijuana often got students “on the wrong path with drug use.”
O’Neill, while she admitted wrestling with the question, said at this point she plans to vote “yes” on Question 1. She said she would want to see safeguards put in place to prevent children using it, but said she sees alcohol as a bigger overall societal problem.
O’Neill, making good on a promise she made during the primary season, called attention on several occasions to Langley’s voting record. She made one reference to a bill regarding Made in Maine products, and said while Langley voted different ways on different iterations of the bill she would have supported it.
Langley said bills change as they go through the legislative process, as amendments or other modifications are made. He said he is a “huge supporter” of locally made, grown or produced products, and listed many that he serves in his restaurant.
The candidates agreed in principle, but not on specifics, with regard to raising the minimum wage. Langley, owner of the Union River Lobster Pot, said he supported raising the minimum wage from $7.50 to $8.50 and then ultimately to $10 an hour.
He is opposed, however, to the ballot initiative that seeks to push it to $12 an hour by 2020, because it ties future increases to the consumer price index and eliminates the tip credit.
O’Neill said she supports Question 4 because “we have to raise everyone up.” She said she does not think people will stop tipping their servers if the wage is increased.
The candidates agreed on pushing Governor LePage to release voter-approved bonds for the Land for Maine Future program. O’Neill said she does not understand why the Governor is opposed, while Langley said he was one of only a few Republican senators to speak out on the floor of the Senate and say LePage’s actions were “not good government.”
The two candidates also found agreement on the subject of refugees coming to Maine. While both said they want to see proper vetting done, they also recognize that Maine needs more residents because its population is aging.
“For Maine to survive, we’ve got to have new Mainers,” said Langley, who noted his great-grandparents came to the state from Canada.
“It really doesn’t make sense to close our borders to people,” said O’Neill. “It’s ridiculous to turn people away just because of where they’re from.”
The Senate candidates were preceded by four candidates for two different House seats.
Republican David Edsall is challenging incumbent Democrat Louie Luchini in District 132, made up of Ellsworth and Trenton. In District 136, meanwhile, made up of towns on the Schoodic Peninsula and inland north of Ellsworth, GOP incumbent Rich Malaby is being challenged by Democrat Mike Fisher.
On the subject of minimum wage, both Luchini and Fisher said they favor raising it.
“Nobody can support a family on the current minimum wage, and we shouldn’t force them to,” Fisher said. Luchini said people should be able to make a living off of any job.
Malaby said there are more important issues to deal with, and Edsall said he thinks an increase would “create more problems than it solves.” Edsall said the minimum wage is not designed as a living wage and is instead supposed to be a starting point. He bemoaned what he said is a lack of good work ethic among teenagers.
Each of the House candidates outlined areas of particular interest or importance to them:
- Edsall, an anesthesiologist, said he would focus on health care if elected.
“I would approach bills the same way I approach a patient,” he said, by asking what the problem is and looking at what the solution might be.
- Luchini cited his sponsorship of a research and development bond (it will come before voters in June of 2017) as one of his biggest successes.
He said the state needs to work to attract good-paying jobs such as those in the tech sector in order to keep young people in Maine.
- Malaby cited his service on the Health and Human Services Committee and said he would continue to focus on making sure truly needy individuals — particularly those with acute mental illness — get the help they need.
He also pledged to continue working to reform the state’s education funding model, which he said is “nothing less than crushing” to towns in his district because it effectively penalizes towns with high property values (i.e., waterfront).
- Fisher said he would have two main missions if elected: bringing “radical transparency” to government and ensuring it makes a “commitment to useful technology.
On the subject of corporate taxes, Fisher said he does not see that as the deciding factor in whether a business chooses to locate in Maine. He said things such as infrastructure and a well-educated workforce also play a role.
The forum was sponsored by The League of Women Voters of Maine, the Community Union of Hancock County and The Ellsworth American. The paper’s managing editor, Stephen Fay, served as moderator.