LEWISTON, Maine — The six hopefuls wanting to be the Maine GOP candidate for the upcoming U.S. Senate race held with rapt attention a crowd of about 250 of the Republican Party’s faithful during a nearly two-hour forum at the Franco-American Heritage Center on Wednesday night.
Making appearances were Scott D’Amboise, a Lisbon-based small businessman and a tea party candidate; former Maine state Senate President Rick Bennett, an Oxford resident and businessman; Maine Attorney General William Schneider; Maine State Treasurer Bruce Poliquin; Maine Secretary of State Charles Summers; and state Sen. Debra Plowman.
The candidates touched on many of the hot topics of this year’s election cycle, but time and again came back to major issues: balancing the federal budget deficit and taking on former Maine Gov. Angus King, an independent, in the general election.
The only other individual mentioned as much as King during the forum was President Barack Obama.
“I can’t wait to take on Angus King in the general election,” Schneider told the crowd. “I know Angus King and Angus King is no independent.”
In his closing statements, Summers criticized King’s statement on a national television news show last week that he might not serve on any committees in the Senate to retain his neutrality.
“Can you please tell me what kind of arrogance a person has when they say they are not going to serve on a committee?” Summers asked.
All but Plowman, who was called from the forum early to return to the state Senate to vote, tackled the King issue, berating his terms as governor and pointing out again and again that King started his terms as governor with a budget surplus but left the state with nearly $1 billion budget shortfall.
The candidates proposed eliminating several departments or agencies within the federal government, including the IRS, the Department of Energy, the Department of Education, the Federal Reserve and the Transportation Safety Administration.
All said they opposed the federal Affordable Care Act, dubbed “Obamacare” by opponents. Each said they would vote to repeal it, provided the U.S. Supreme Court did not rule the act unconstitutional later this summer.
Summers and Schneider, both decorated veterans, touted their military service and highlighted their accomplishments as leaders in the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Army, respectively.
D’Amboise noted one thing that separated him from his GOP opponents: He was the only candidate who was in the race challenging incumbent and long-serving U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe before she announced she would not seek re-election. The others joined the fray after that.
Questions for the candidates were pulled mostly at random from a glass bowl by moderator Carol Weston, a former Republican state lawmaker. Weston held some questions for all of the candidates and presented them with several she called “popcorn” questions, which had to be answered quickly.
The candidates also shared their position on abortion rights. Summers, Schneider and Bennett said they were pro-choice, but Bennett said he never supported government-funded abortions. The others said they were firmly against abortion.
All of the candidates said they opposed federal government subsidies for wind energy development in Maine. D’Amboise said he opposed all government subsidies for business.
But the overarching theme for all of the candidates was the federal debt. Each said much more needed to be done in Washington to reel in government spending.
“Now we have a $16 trillion national debt,” Poliquin said, “with no plan to pay it back.” He said his experience working as state treasurer with Gov. Paul LePage to bring Maine’s budget to solvency, coupled with his business experience, made him the right candidate to take on that problem.
“I’ve been working hand in hand with Gov. LePage in Maine and we are fixing this mess,” Poliquin said. “The problems in Maine are the same as in Washington — they are just bigger [in Washington]. What we are doing in Maine is we are spending less, we are taxing less, we are regulating less and we are borrowing less.”
Plowman told a poignant story about working as a state lawmaker to change a policy that saw children in state custody being placed in foster care with strangers instead of relatives. She said she was threatened by the Department of Health and Human Services with a home visit to her own home but stood her ground.
Plowman said the policy was in place because the state received more money from the federal government when children were placed with strangers. She said the issue was being driven by the state’s budget needs and not the needs of children.
“Those are issues that I took on with great risk to myself and my family, because it was the right thing to do,” Plowman said. “It’s not budget-driven; it’s child-driven. When a child lays his head on his pillow in his grandmother’s house and knows he’s where he belongs, I can take some comfort in that because I stood up to DHHS.”
Bennett tackled King and Obama in one answer, noting King had endorsed Obama’s re-election. Bennett outlined four years of federal budget deficits under Obama and said a stagnant economy was hurting working families.
“The average family during the last four years has seen their income drop by $4,300, in real dollars, during Barack Obama’s presidency,” Bennett said. “This is a terrible indictment of Barack Obama’s presidency and Angus King has endorsed enthusiastically these policies.”
Bennett also urged party unity, as did D’Amboise who said while he differed with his opponents on some issues, he agreed with them on many. He called his GOP opponents “good people.”
Those in the audience had their favorite candidates, but many, such as Mike Willette of Sabattus, said they were still sorting it out. Willette said the choice was difficult for him, but he characterized it as a “positive one.”
“I think it’s a great choice,” Willette said. “It’s just a question of which one fills the bill in the end result, but they are all good, as far as my positions are concerned.”
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