MACHIAS, Maine — Republican gubernatorial primary candidates held a debate Wednesday night at the University of Maine at Machias, fielding questions from about 65 people. The topics ranged from funding for education to help for Washington County’s fishing industry to Sunday hunting to same-sex marriage.
An applause-o-meter would likely have indicated the audience equally supported all candidates and there were no surprise announcements or statements during the evening. The candidates actually varied little in their platforms.
Six of the seven Republican candidates on the June 8 primary ballot attended: Steve Abbott, Bill Beardsley, Matt Jacobson, Paul LePage, Peter Mills and Les Otten. Bruce Poliquin was absent.
Robert Peacock, chairman of the Eastport City Council, told the panel that Lubec was losing $590,000 in state education funding and Eastport was losing $400,000. He asked for solutions.
“First, find a competent commissioner of education that cares for kids, not their career,” LePage said.
A suggestion by Peacock that the entire Department of Education be eliminated drew applause from the audience.
Several candidates — Mills, Otten, Abbott and LePage — said the consolidation concept was good but flawed.
LePage said many school services, such as busing, nutrition and technology, should be offered on a county level.
All the candidates said incentives rather than penalties should have been used in the process.
“We should have given towns time, like we did with the SADs, and the economics would have followed,” Abbott said.
All of the candidates agreed that high taxes were driving people away from Maine, including retirees and others who could contribute to Maine’s community life.
“There is no leadership in Augusta,” LePage asserted.
All of the candidates also pushed for a strong stand against Canada for its opposition to developers locating a liquefied natural gas facility in Washington County. Otten called the Canadian government’s attempt to block the placement of an LNG facility in the area “a crime.”
They also decried the lack of strong objection by Maine’s leaders when the federal government severely limited the herring catch. And they called for a stronger marketing campaign for Maine’s products, such as lobster.
All but Mills supported Sunday hunting with the provision that Maine’s landowners get on board.
Abbott, Otten and Mills said they were pro-choice on abortion, while Beardsley and LePage said they were anti-abortion.
Mills said he voted in favor of the same-sex marriage legislation, while all others were against it.
A debate between two of the five Democratic primary candidates — Steven Rowe and Elizabeth Mitchell — is set for 6:30 tonight in the Performing Arts Center on campus. Candidates Pat McGowan and Rosa Scarcelli will not attend.