MACHIAS, Maine — It was no knockdown, drag-out fight at Tuesday night’s candidates forum featuring the two men vying for Washington County sheriff and the three lawyers competing to be the next district attorney for Washington and Hancock counties.
But it certainly wasn’t a love fest either.
The only topic that all the candidates agreed upon was that community involvement was the only way to solve Washington County’s growing drug problem.
Incumbent Sheriff Donnie Smith, I-Lubec, spent much of the evening challenging Dale Earle, R-Calais, about funding for the Sheriff’s Department and defending his department’s stand on domestic violence.
On the district attorney side of the table, Carlotta “Dee” Bassano, D-Ellsworth, fended off accusations by Matthew Foster, R-Ellsworth, and Steven Juskewitch, I-Dedham, that the District Attorney’s Office has been poorly run for decades and lacks leadership.
Foster said that at 31 he is the least experienced of the candidates but said that was a plus and voters could avoid “more of the same” kind of administration that has been promoted for the past 35 years under District Attorney Michael Povich.
Juskewitch said he was not a “warm and fuzzy” kind of person but that voters could count on a strong approach to prosecution. He said his tough reputation apparently has ruffled some feathers and he recently found a utility knife embedded in his wife’s tire, an act he blamed on those who do not want him elected.
Bassano, who has been an assistant district attorney for decades, defended her prosecutorial record but distanced herself from Povich’s reputation. “I am not Michael Povich,” she said. “I have my own mind. I have my own standards. I have my own sense of right and wrong.”
Smith and Earle traded barbs on grants and reserve deputy programs and debated restorative justice versus rehabilitation.
The debate focused as much on educating the public as to how the sheriff’s office and the district attorney systems work as it did on sharing platforms. Audience members asked the candidates about the structure of the court system, the effectiveness of drug court, laws and enforcement.
This was the second candidates forum held at UMM, and about 65 people attended each.
Last Thursday, eight people vying for Senate District 29 and three House districts met.
During the two-hour forum, most of the candidates appeared to agree on major issues. They all identified jobs and business security, economic development and diverse energy strategies as priorities.
They were incumbent Howard McFadden, R-Dennysville, and Anna Mather, D-East Machias, seeking House District 30; incumbent David Burns, R-Whiting, and Katherine Cassidy, D-Machias, for House District 32; incumbent Diane Tilton, R-Harrington, and Larry Finnegan, D-Jonesport, for House District 33; and incumbent Kevin Raye, R-Perry, and James Whalen, D-Machias, for Senate District 29.
Individual candidates disagreed on siting a liquefied natural gas facility in Washington County and whether they supported offshore wind power and oil drilling.
The audience questioned the incumbents on their voting record, on conservation versus jobs, the size of the Legislature and what their stands were on promoting agriculture.
When asked by moderator John Reisman how each would improve the economy, their answers ranged from making Maine more business-friendly, stressing efficiency in government, promoting pride in Washington County and promoting campaigns to buy local.