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7 GOP gov. candidates agree jobs No. 1 issue

Pat Wellenbach | AP
Pat Wellenbach | AP
Les Otten, right, leans across Peter Mills, center, to shake hands with Paul LePage, after Maine's seven Republican gubernatorial hopefuls debated for the last time before next week's primary election, at the University of Southern Maine in Portland, on Tuesday evening, June 1, 2010. (AP Photo/Pat Wellenbach)
The Associated Press

AUGUSTA, Maine — As Maine’s seven Republican gubernatorial hopefuls faced off Tuesday for the last time before the primary election, they agreed there’s a dire need to create jobs in the state but differed on issues including immigration and energy corridors.

Les Otten, Bruce Poliquin, Steve Abbott, Peter Mills, Matt Jacobson, Paul LePage and Bill Beardsley participated in the debate, which was carried live by WMTW-TV, at the University of Southern Maine in Portland. Most took the position that state government, despite recent budget-driven cuts, is still too big and too heavy-handed in regulating job-creating businesses.

Each tried to distinguish himself from the others a week before the primary, amid polls that suggest no candidate has jumped ahead of the pack and voters are hazy on who’s running.

Voters “are looking for someone with real-world experience,” Otten said. The former ski company executive said Maine needs to create more than 46,000 jobs to regain solid fiscal footing.

Poliquin said his background as an executive who handles more money than the state budget makes him “someone who watches spending like a hawk.” LePage, of Waterville, said he’s the only mayor in the race who lowered taxes in his city.

Mills pointed to his eight successive elections to the Legislature, where he has became deeply involved in tax and spending issues. Because of his familiarity with the state budget, “I’m the only one up here who’s trained, willing and able to do this job,” he said.

Asked what they would do to create much-needed jobs, Abbott called for a change in the state’s attitude toward business so “government will get out of the way.” Poliquin called for “real and meaningful tax reform” and simplification of business regulations. Beardsley said one-on-one consultations with individual businesses could yield job-creating solutions that aren’t costly.

LePage, who gave part of his opening statement in French in acknowledgment of Maine’s large Franco-American population, called for a regulatory system that focuses less on controls and more on oversight. LePage, who has the closest ties to the Tea Party movement, held up a small copy of the Constitution and said, “Bring back this little document to the state of Maine.”

Mills was asked whether he supports the GOP’s recently adopted platform, which calls for abolishing the Department of Education and says health care is a privilege, not a right, and global warming is a myth. Mills said he sees health care as a right.

“That platform is an expression of anger about government,” he said.

Asked whether they would support a tough immigration law like Arizona’s, Abbott said no, but he would remove what he called “Maine’s sanctuary state status.” LePage and Poliquin said they would support a law like Arizona’s, which makes it a crime to be in the country illegally.

The candidates had varying views on how to frame an “energy corridors” policy, with Poliquin and LePage more open to reliance on Canadian power than Mills and Abbott. With a casino gambling question on the November ballot, none of the candidates expressed support for expanding gambling, but Otten said the question should be left to voters.

Questions were written by the Portland station’s editorial board, the audience and station viewers.

The four Democratic candidates will gather at the same location on Wednesday.

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