BANGOR, Maine — As a son born into a small family business in Illinois, a college graduate whose first full-time job was as a hotel assistant manager, and the former operator of a small-scale airport coffee stand, Charlie Summers is well versed in Maine’s small-business tradition.
“I have the breadth and depth of experience to be effective as a senator for this state,” Summers told a group of 25 people attending Fusion’s Noontime Networks luncheon Thursday.
Summers, Maine’s secretary of state and the Republican nominee running for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by the retiring Olympia Snowe, said 97.1 percent of Maine businesses have fewer than 20 employees. “I understand the concerns and the needs of small-business owners.”
The married father of three children spent a half-hour relating his life experiences, focusing heavily on his involvement working for, running and owning small businesses while dealing with the challenges of being a single parent. His first wife, Debra, was killed in a car accident in 1997. He said he met his current wife, Ruth, 10 years ago.
“I really appreciated learning more about his personal history,” said a 31-year-old Bangor woman, who preferred not to give her name but is a member of the Fusion steering committee. “What seemed to me previously was that he was quite deliberate checking off boxes of what people want to know that will send him into office, but the way he told his own story was not that. It was the path his life has taken, and I like that.”
Summers provided numerous examples of his experiences in small business.
“My first job out of college was assistant manager at Bangor Motor Inn and I got paid $12,400 a year,” he said. “I also used to work for National Rental Car renting cars on the weekend when I had two kids in day care. I started my own coffee business out at the Portland airport.”
Summers, 52, addressed other issues in the hourlong event at the Bangor Masonic Lodge’s Wellman Commons:
• Taxes — “It’s very clear we are on an unsustainable path currently,” he said. “We are in a situation we cannot tax ourselves out of.”
• The notion that tax cuts have to be paid for — “If you follow that logic — how do we pay for it — then why aren’t we discussing 100 percent tax rates,” he asked. “It’s been borne out tax cuts aren’t something you have to ‘pay for.’ President Kennedy cut taxes, President Reagan cut taxes, President Bush 43 cut taxes … and the result was there was more and more money in the federal treasury, and that created enough tax revenue to cover whatever deficits we had. We could tax everybody for everything they have and we still wouldn’t have the money to be sustainable.”
• Green energy — “I support the use and development of alternative energy, but we also have a moral responsibility in this country to develop all of our own resources,” he said. “Technology has changed. Life has changed, and I’ll be the first to say we have to protect our environment, but I think that there are technologies that exist allowing us to look for gas and oil in previously unreachable areas, … and I think those are things we have to be willing to tap into.”
• Nuclear energy — “I remember Three Mile Island as a kid, and Chernobyl … and you have to be cognizant of that and be stewards of the environment, but the quality of life and the amazing economy capitalism produces, if we want to sustain that, we have to be willing to use fuel sources here,” Summers said.
• Affordable health care — “I’m a strong proponent of an association health plan with discounts for employees under health plans,” he said. “With the current plan, you’re talking about adding $2 trillion in costs.”
• Term limits — “I’m in favor of term limits,” he said. “I think you should be able to serve a maximum of three terms in the Senate, but that should be a national limit, not just certain states. Otherwise, it would put term-limit states at a disadvantage.”
Ann Marie’s Kitchen owner Ann Marie Orr, who catered the event, said she’s looking forward to hearing other candidates in the luncheon series. Independent candidate Angus King is confirmed for October and Fusion members are trying to book Democratic nominee Cynthia Dill for September.
“I vote the person, not the party,” said Orr. “And these kinds of events help me make a better decision.”
The Fusion steering committee member, a self-labeled moderate, said the luncheon series is beneficial to her as well.
“With so many candidates for Senate this year, I think it’s great we have opportunities to ask questions that maybe don’t get answered at other events,” she said. “And I recognized a lot of people here today, so I think there was definitely a really good mix of people from all kinds of political walks of life.”
Correction: An early version of this story requires correction. Charlie Summers was born in Illinois, not Ohio, and started a coffee business in the airport in Portland, not Bangor. He is 52, not 53.