LEWISTON, Maine — The four Democrats hoping to be their party’s choice for U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe’s seat squared off on a host of issues Friday evening at Bates College.
They held little back as they shared their ideas and opinions before a crowd of about 100 people, mostly Bates College Democrats.
“College campuses were hotbeds of activism and you can make it that way again,” candidate Benjamin Pollard, a Portland-based small-business owner, told the crowd. “I think we need somebody from outside the political establishment. It’s so broken right now that we need someone with fresh ideas and bold visions to shake it up.”
Running in the June primary against state Sen. Cynthia Dill of Cape Elizabeth, state Rep. Jon Hinck of Portland and former Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap of Old Town, Pollard admitted he was probably the least known in the group. But he said he hopes to win the support of young people like those in the audience Friday.
Pollard also said he was the most conservative of the Democrats seeking the nomination.
“I would plan to win with my youthful idealism and my energy and enthusiasm and passion and would try to bring people into the political process who are not involved now and make this a campaign of ideas,” he said.
Freshman Jordan Becker, however, seemed to be leaning toward the more established candidates. He said he liked Hinck best because he was the only candidate to stand out on the health care issue in saying he would support a universal system for the United States.
“He said that the mandate is a step in the right direction but it’s not the right solution — that was the one issue that made him stand out for me,” Becker, a rhetoric major, said. “The other candidates seemed to support different variations of private systems or adding a public option. It’s important for me to see a candidate support that because you don’t hear it a lot in the current political discourse.”
Of the Affordable Health Care Act, Hinck said at first he wasn’t a fan of the “individual mandate” that requires all Americans to buy health insurance and is under the review of the U.S. Supreme Court.
“Another disgraceful statistic is that 30 million Americans do not have health insurance,” he said. “The Affordable Care Act is going to improve that picture but it will not erase the number of people who don’t have health insurance, or in other words it is not comprehensive.”
Dill said the Affordable Care Act should stand the test of the Supreme Court and if it doesn’t, an effort should be made to get Supreme Court justices that would approve of it.
Pollard said he supported some of the act but not all of it and he, too, opposes the mandate. “I support some of the provisions but not all the provisions,” he said.
Emily Roseman, 18, said the debate was a toss-up between Hinck and Dill.
“I particularly care about the environmental issues and I like that Cynthia Dill supports a national park for Maine, and both candidates supported further research on conservation and alternative energy for Maine,” Roseman said.
Dill and Dunlap had vastly different views on several subjects. She supports strong gun control. He’s a member of the NRA. She’s in favor of a feasibility study to determine whether Maine should create a new federal park. He said support of a park of that magnitude needs to be driven by the popular support of Maine people and that just wasn’t the case at present.
“Of 17 million acres of forest in Maine, 70,000 acres represents less than 1 percent,” Dill said. She touted the proposal that would set it up, including a land donation and an endowment of $40 million from Roxanne Quimby, the former owner of Burt’s Bees. The park would create jobs and stimulate a faltering economy in northern Maine and the endowment is designed to compensate local municipalities for any lost property tax revenue, she said.
“The quality of life around national parks is greatly increased and it’s a really good idea,” she said. “So as a United States senator, I would vote to study it.”
Dunlap said the topic was just one of several Dill has seized on in an attempt to polarize the party and win the nomination. He said the issue of a national park and gun rights were not at the top of the list for most work-a-day Democratic voters.
Dunlap, who grew up in Bar Harbor at the gates of Acadia National Park, said of all the candidates in the race, he fully understood what potential and what limitations a federal park can hold for a community. He called the discussion on what’s going to happen with Maine’s northern forest a very important one but said it was simply too polarizing an issue.
“The problem with a feasibility study of a national park in the North Woods in northern Maine is that it is so polarizing and so radioactive that it pushes every other discussion about conservation out of the room,” Dunlap said. “All we do is wind up taking sides about who is for it and who is against it.”
Dunlap said he believes the federal government does have a role to play in conservation in Maine and that role can be very strong.
“But that role is going to have to be predicated among what people in Maine want to see for an addition in the future,” Dunlap said. “Right now talking about a national park as if it is the only solution does nothing but draw lines and make enemies out of neighbors.”
Dill shot back, saying she believes it’s the role of policymakers to stand up for the things they believe in, even if those issue can be polarizing.
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