PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — With individual promises to cut federal spending, vote against legislation that threatens constitutional rights, revamp the health care system and fight for the nation’s veterans, four of the six candidates seeking the U.S. Senate seat soon to be vacated by Sen. Olympia Snowe addressed voter questions during a forum on Thursday evening.
It was the first of a series of nine public forums to be held statewide featuring the Republican candidates. The Maine Republican Party and GOPforME hosted the event at the Presque Isle Inn and Convention Center.
Senate candidates running in the June 12 GOP primary are former state Sen. Rick Bennett, businessman Scott D’Amboise, state Sen. Debra Plowman, state Treasurer Bruce Poliquin, Maine Attorney General William Schneider and Maine Secretary of State Charlie Summers.
Plowman and Poliquin were unable to attend.
Approximately 50 people watched as the candidates fielded questions submitted online and by attendees. A subdued audience did not show support for any one candidate and had no reaction over the two missing candidates. Each question was answered by only one candidate, but they were all asked whether they supported same-sex marriage, and all said that they do not.
One of the earliest questions was directed at Bennett, who was asked if he thought he could beat former two-term governor Angus King, who is running for the seat as an independent.
Bennett said he served in the Maine Senate when King was governor and “tussled over serious budget issues” with him and “argued against his policies” on the Senate floor. He faulted King for expanding the size of government in the state.
“I think I can take him on, and I’m happy to do it,” he said.
He also told the audience that he would work to simplify the federal tax code so “ordinary citizens could do their taxes” faster and more easily.
Summers said he would support random drug testing for welfare and Section 8 recipients. He also was asked about recent data that shows student debt in the U.S. has topped $1 trillion.
“I don’t think that every student needs to go to a four-year college,” he said, adding that he started his higher education at a community college. “I would stop programming people to believe that they have to go into debt for a four-year degree.”
He said he wanted to see a better focus on trade and technical jobs and other employment options that would not require substantial school loans.
Summers, who picked up an endorsement from the Legislature’s Aroostook County Republican delegation on Thursday, also stated that he believed immigrants should be able to enter the country as long as they do it legally.
D’Amboise’s platform includes living within one’s means and he wants to see veterans get the health care and other benefits they deserve. He said his priorities if elected would reflect those goals. He also stressed support for all constitutional liberties.
“I’ll never vote for anything legislative-wise that takes away an amendment right,” he told the crowd.
Schneider said he would cut spending and eliminate waste at the federal level. He pointed out that, as attorney general, he has tripled the number of welfare fraud prosecutions brought by the state.
“I would take that exact same attitude to the Senate,”he said. “I would make sure that fraud, waste and abuse is hunted down and ferreted out at every possible opportunity.”
He also touted himself as a “good, solid conservative,” and added that during one of his terms in the Legislature he was ranked highest by the Maine Economic Research Institute based on his votes to encourage the state’s economic and small business climate.
He said women’s access to healthcare and contraception is important, but he questioned the constitutionality of President Barack Obama’s mandate that health insurance plans include contraceptive coverage.
He joined 12 other attorneys general in February in signing a letter urging Obama to reverse his stance.
Four candidates are vying for the Democratic nomination for Snowe’s seat: former Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, State Sen. Cynthia Dill, State Rep. Jon Hinck and Portland home builder Benjamin Pollard.
The next GOP forum for the U.S. Senate candidates will be held at 6 p.m. Friday, April 13, at the Elks Lodge in Augusta. For more information and a list of times, dates and locations of the remaining forums that will be held around the state through May 19, visit gopforme.com.
The forums are free and open to anyone, regardless of political party affiliation.