BELFAST, Maine — Eleven of Waldo County’s 12 candidates vying for legislative seats — five in the House and one in the Senate — talked about partisanship, jobs, taxes and education at a Friday morning forum sponsored by the Waldo County Leadership Circle.
Partisanship that holds sway at the State House was identified by several candidates as a top concern. Yet on many of the questions about other issues, delivered by moderator and Belfast attorney Lee Woodward, candidates followed their party’s talking points.
Joe Brooks of Winterport, a former Democratic House member, is running as an independent in House District 42 because, he said, “People aren’t talking to each other.” Citing U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe’s decision to not seek re-election because of partisan standoffs, Brooks said in the Legislature, “If you’re not a member of the majority party … you don’t get your legislation passed.”
Meredith Ares of Searsport, a Democrat seeking the House District 41 seat, noted that the Maine Development Foundation’s Measures of Growth report cited partisanship as a major hindrance to growth.
Rep. James Gillway of Searsport, the Republican seeking re-election in District 41, said he has worked with Rep. Erin Herbig of Belfast, a Democrat.
“Some of my best friends are Democrats,” he said. Some of those legislators offered to write letters in support of his re-election, Gillway said, but he urged them, “Don’t do it.” There would be unfavorable consequences for them, he said.
Herbig, seeking re-election in District 43, said candidates at the extreme margins of their parties often get elected, creating the standoff. She is a member of a moderate caucus in the Legislature which meets once a week for lunch, talking about family and other personal matters.
“Building those relationships is so important,” she said, in establishing a human connection that can translate into working together on policy.
In a related issue, some candidates supported making the Legislature smaller.
Sen. Michael Thibodeau, a Winterport Republican seeking re-election in District 23, said he favored making the Legislature smaller, as did Lloyd Chase, a Democrat from Liberty seeking the House 44 seat. Jethro Pease of Morrill, Republican candidate for the House District 44 seat, favors cutting the Legislature to 27 senators from 35, and cutting the House to 99 members from 151.
Leo LaChance of Winterport, Republican candidate in House District 42, said the Legislature should be cut in half, and that residents should be able to vote for two House and two Senate districts.
The economy drew differences between candidates.
Pease said creating jobs must be the state’s top priority. To achieve it, energy costs must be lowered, overly restrictive regulations and rules for businesses must be eased, corporate taxes must be lowered and vocational education must be stressed.
Donna Hopkins of Belmont, Republican candidate for House District 43, said in knocking on doors in the district she found most people believe jobs and the economy are the most important issues. “Lower, predictable costs” for energy; a regulatory climate “that allows you to grow”; lower taxes; and a focus on education other than a traditional, four-year college degree, are key, she said.
Herbig said other factors contribute.
“Just saying job creation is important is one thing,” she said, “but having a plan to do something about it is a completely different thing.” Herbig said the Belfast area’s “quality of place” was an economic driver. “People want to live here,” she said. “This is a great place to live.”
Candidates generally supported bringing state funding of local education to 55 percent, though they offered different views on taxes and the budget.
Pease said legislators should use the zero-based budget approach, which requires government functions to be justified to win funding. “They do not know that business concept,” Pease said.
Herbig said tax reform is overdue, since the last overhaul came in the 1960s, and the Maine economy has changed since then.
Rep. Ryan Harmon of Palermo, the Republican seeking re-election in District 45, said the Legislature succeeded in cutting the top income tax rate and in eliminating the so-called marriage penalty.
Democrat Brian Jones of Freedom, seeking the District 45 seat, said, “I believe in progressive taxation,” and noted that “education is being funded 100 percent right now,” meaning that locals are closing the gap from what the state provides.
Glenn “Chip” Curry of Belfast, who is challenging for the Senate District 23 seat, did not attend Friday’s forum.
Correction: An earlier version of this story requires correction. Maine House Democratic candidate Brian Jones of Freedom was misquoted as saying that education is currently funded at 10 percent. He said it is now funded at 100 percent.