PORTLAND, Maine — In a debate filled with the usual talk of taxes, government spending and negative ads, the three leading candidates for the U.S. Senate were asked how they would define their success, a question that highlighted the differences between them.
While Republican Charlie Summers, Maine’s secretary of state, said he would work to grow the economy by reducing the regulatory burden on small businesses and limiting the growth of government, Democrat Cynthia Dill, a state senator, said her goal was to support President Barack Obama and continue on his path “toward recovery.”
Former Gov. Angus King, an independent, said his goal would be to make Congress more productive, maintaining that the current Congress is the most unproductive since 1947. He said a realistic jobs program and addressing the country’s debt would be his priorities.
The debate, part of the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce’s monthly Eggs & Issues series, gave the candidates a chance to address several large, overarching issues, such as money in politics, partisan gridlock in Washington, taxes, reducing the deficit, and the proper role of government. Chris Hall, the chamber’s senior vice president of government affairs, moderated the debate.
When asked their views on outside money flowing into Maine to influence the Senate race, King said it “corrupts our politics” and said he had proposed earlier in the race that he and his fellow candidates pledge to keep this outside money out of the race. While Dill was open to the idea, King said Summers was opposed. King said Citizens United, the U.S. Supreme Court case that opened the door for unrestricted spending on campaigns by corporations and unions, “was the worst Supreme Court decision, certainly, in my lifetime.” He said he would support legislation that would require Super PACs to reveal their funding sources.
Last week, Americans Elect, an outside group that is not registered as a PAC, purchased more than $600,000 worth of TV advertising on behalf of King.
Summers said he is committed to running a positive campaign, but rejected King’s pledge idea because it is impossible for a campaign to prevent outside groups from spending their money as they wish.
Dill shared King’s dislike of Citizens United and voiced her support for the DISCLOSE Act, which would among other things establish additional disclosure requirements that would force super-PACs to reveal from where they receive funding, and the Fair Elections Now Act, which would enable federal candidates for office to qualify for public campaign financing and was co-sponsored in the House by Maine Rep. Chellie Pingree.
In response to a request for a show of hands of who would support a constitutional amendment limiting the influence of the Citizens United case, Dill and King raised their hands (actually, King raised both arms high in the air), while Summers did not.
When asked about their support for eliminating the filibuster, Dill was the only candidate to raise her hand, though King chimed in to say he would consider reforming it.
A question about the proper role of government also revealed the differences in the candidates.
Summers said government is there to help those that cannot help themselves, but said the way to accomplish that is to have strong families, strong communities and make sure government doesn’t grow too large.
Dill said the role of government is to help provide a safety net for those citizens who are less fortunate than others. She also said government has a role to promote certain activities, such as space exploration, that the private sector couldn’t do because of the profit motive.
The proper role of government is best explained in the Constitution, King said, reading an excerpt of the Constitution’s preamble from his iPhone. He elaborated to say that the role of government is to provide people with the opportunity and access to this “incredible system in order to build this country and their own lives.”
It was a relatively civil debate, though there were a few thrusts and parries between candidates.
At one point, Summers took a swipe at King, saying he found it “remarkable” that the former governor would propose raising taxes to reduce the deficit. “You should not be raising taxes on anyone in this economy,” he said.
King responded by chiding Summers for signing Grover Norquist’s Taxpayer Protection Pledge, basically pledging to oppose any and all tax increases. King said he doesn’t enjoy tax increases, but recognizes that sometimes circumstances necessitate such an increase, and to blindly pledge to oppose any attempts to increase taxes would be harmful.
“I contend that anyone who signs Norquist’s pledge can’t be part of the conversation,” King said. “I’m not for taxes, but I am for paying our bills and not leaving our debt for our children.”
Summers sought to differentiate himself from King and Dill on the tax issue. He agreed the country needs more revenue, but disagreed with his opponents on how to get there. “We don’t have a tax problem in this country. We have a spending problem,” he said. “I want to grow our way out of this economy.”
The candidates will debate again next Wednesday, Oct. 17, at the Gracie Theatre on Husson University’s campus in Bangor.