AUGUSTA, Maine — The five candidates for governor are divided on gay marriage in Maine, but most are cool to downright icy on casino gambling even as residents prepare to vote on a proposed $165 million casino and resort in the hills of western Maine.
An Associated Press survey of Blaine House contestants also shows sentiment for reducing education costs and making health care revisions despite the overhaul enacted by Congress.
Candidates responding to five questions in a survey by the AP differed most sharply when asked whether they would propose or support a new law recognizing gay marriage a year after voters rejected a same-sex marriage law adopted by the Maine Legislature.
Two of the candidates — Democrat Libby Mitchell and independent Eliot Cutler — say they support efforts to recognize same-sex marriages.
“Yes, I will continue to lead on this issue until Maine ends discrimination in our marriage laws,” Mitchell said. “It is a matter of human fairness and constitutional fairness, and it is past time for Maine to adopt marriage equality.”
Cutler said he also strongly supports marriage equality “as a matter of equal protection under the law.”
“I don’t believe that religion should be making laws for government, or that government should be making laws for religion,” said Cutler.
Republican Paul LePage said he would not propose such a change, saying, “I support and trust the voters’ decision to keep the current law defining marriage as the sacred union of one man and one woman.”
Independent Shawn Moody said he wouldn’t sign a gay marriage law unless it had a provision sending it to voters. Fellow independent Kevin Scott said only that he would work with all sides “to propose a law that ensures we are protecting all Maine people equally.”
There was little disagreement on casino gambling. A Nov. 3 referendum asks whether a casino in Oxford County should be allowed. Three previous proposals have been rejected by voters.
Mitchell, Cutler and Moody said flatly they oppose casino gambling. Mitchell called it the wrong way to achieve economic development, while Cutler said it would do nothing to enhance Maine’s quality of life or differentiate Maine from other states. Moody said there are better economic development tools.
LePage, saying gaming expansion “is not high on my radar screen,” said he would support the voters’ decision if they endorse it. Scott dodged the Oxford question, but said he would work with the Legislature to create a casino gambling law that works in Maine’s best interest.
With changes in health care regulation beginning to take effect, candidates were asked whether the state should hold off on its own reforms until the effect of the federal law becomes clear. The gubernatorial candidates’ responses were varied.
LePage, the favored candidate of many tea party activists who loathe the federal changes, said more competition and more health insurance choices are needed before the “disastrous” changes pushed by President Barack Obama take hold. He supports allowing consumers to buy plans available in other New England states to give them more options.
Mitchell said the state should move swiftly to create health insurance exchanges as mandated by the federal law, allowing businesses and individuals to pool together and access lower costs.
Cutler called for “substantive” changes as proposed in his wellness plan but said he believes the federal law offers the state opportunities to be innovative in improving health care.
Moody, like LePage, sees a need for more competition to give consumers more choices. Scott said he would move ahead with innovations despite the Obama law’s changes.
While Maine lawmakers have passed a school consolidation law, efforts to cut public education costs should continue, candidates said. Scott goes so far as to call for a fresh look at the complex issue of school funding itself.
LePage sees a “bloated education bureaucracy” that’s ripe for cuts and called for more focus on giving teachers and classrooms what they need to succeed. Mitchell said the state and school districts should work together to further cut administrative costs, saying “we need to move money from administrators to students.”
Cutler said that while further efficiencies are needed, “forced consolidation isn’t the answer.” Moody agrees consolidation is not the best route and efficiencies can be found elsewhere.
Three of the candidates — LePage, Cutler and Scott — said they favor charter schools, while Mitchell and Moody say they oppose them. Lawmakers last session rejected a bill to allow the independently run public schools, which are allowed in most other states.