ELLSWORTH — Incumbent state Sen. Louie Luchini and former four-term senator Brian Langley exchanged views on the 2020 election’s hot-button issues in a virtual forum on Oct. 13. Former state senator Jill Goldthwait served as moderator, with questions covering climate change, health care, renewable energy and restarting a state economy battered by COVID-19.
Both candidates are seasoned legislators, with Luchini, a Democrat, serving four terms in the House before taking the Senate 7 seat in 2018 after Langley, a Republican, termed out. Both emphasized their support and legislative achievements for state fisheries, education, health care and the economy, often with a narrow margin separating their views.
The current pandemic colored nearly every question the candidates fielded, starting with their response to Governor Janet Mills’ handling of the crisis.
While supporting Mills’ “general approach” that relied on science, Luchini also said he helped bring an earlier reopening to Hancock County after Mills imposed statewide restrictions. He said he also helped steer emergency measures through, such as allowing curbside alcohol service.
“Several businesses told us that was the difference between survival and closure,” Luchini said.
Langley said “history will be the final judge whether the state has struck the right balance” between public safety and economics. He faulted the “one size fits all” approach that flattened tourism for most of the 2020 season.
“Problems arise when people feel their voices aren’t heard,” Langley said.
The challenges of a post-pandemic economic recovery are “incredibly difficult,” Luchini said, noting the $250 million rainy day fund created from budget curtailments started in February, to “help close the gap” of the projected $1.4 billion shortfall projected for 2021.
Langley, who helped draft a 10-year economic plan while in office that he described as a “bipartisan road map” for Maine’s economy, said that helping implement that plan is “the major reason I want to run again.”
On climate change, Luchini supported regulations (“Legislation can and must play a role”), while Langley focused on its specific effect on the local fisheries, advocating the Blue Carbon Project, which would use the ocean’s own ecosystem to reduce marine pollution and acidification.
Questions from the virtual audience leaned toward environmental issues, including the “historical low levels” of Graham Lake and fish kills in the Union River. Both candidates agreed some regulation was called for to find a balance that would keep the dam from dropping water levels 11 feet at a time.
Both candidates also agreed, in Luchini’s words, that “when it comes to fishing, we listen to the lobstermen.”
On health care, Luchini “fully supported” legislation that expanded Medicaid health coverage in 2019, which voters approved through a citizen’s initiative in 2017 but was blocked by then-Governor Paul Le Page.
Langley, noting he voted against the Medicaid expansion because of costs — federal funding of the program decreases over time — acknowledged, “It might be time to revise how our safety system is set up.”
Statewide broadband access, campaign finance reform and plastic packaging rounded out viewer questions, with the candidates on opposite sides only on supporting legislation to hold producers of items contained in plastic packaging responsible for disposal costs. Luchini fully supported the measure while Langley favored “looking at plastic-producing processes.”
The final viewer question closed the forum with a touch of brevity: Would either candidate return to the stage for an “Ellsworth Dancing with the Stars?” The candidates were in complete agreement: No.
Sponsored by the League of Women Voters Downeast, The Ellsworth American and Penobscot Bay Press, the forum was recorded and can be viewed at LWVME.org.