BANGOR, Maine — Five of the six candidates for Maine’s open U.S. Senate seat sparred over solutions for ending Washington’s polarized atmosphere, raising taxes as part of balancing the federal budget, reforming financing for federal campaigns and a range of other topics Wednesday night during a debate sponsored by the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce.
Democrat Cynthia Dill and Republican Charlie Summers went after their independent rival, Angus King, questioning his independence and whether the Senate needs an independent to function more effectively. King said the partisan approach hasn’t worked.
“We don’t need an independent in the Senate,” said Summers, Maine’s Secretary of State. “We don’t need an umpire. Umpires don’t win ball games. Winners stand for something.”
“Being independent doesn’t mean anything other than you haven’t subscribed to a set of values,” said Dill, a state senator from Cape Elizabeth. “That doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to be more productive, that you’re going to bring anything new to the U.S. Senate. It just means you’re uncommitted.”
But nothing has been accomplished in a polarized, partisan atmosphere, said King, who hasn’t said whether he would caucus with Senate Democrats or Republicans. “If something isn’t working, doing the same thing harder isn’t going to get a result,” he said.
The two lesser-known independent candidates who participated, Andrew Ian Dodge and Steve Woods, went after their three better-known rivals.
Dodge questioned whether King was independent, because he has raised money from lobbyists. It’s tough to remain independent “once you’ve taken their dirty dollar,” he said. Woods criticized Summers and Dill for their frequent mentions of experience running small businesses.
“If I hear Cynthia or Secretary of State Summers talk anymore about small business, I might jump out of my seat,” said Woods, who owns TideSmart Global, a collective of six marketing businesses in Falmouth. “I have paid more taxes in the past than I believe any of the candidates combined. I worked hard. I’ve built something.”
Wednesday’s debate hit upon a number of similar themes, from economic development to regulations on small businesses to the influence of outside money in this fall’s campaign.
During a discussion about energy, Summers repeated a charge he has levied against King recently. Summers said the former governor is aggressively promoting natural gas because he sits on the board of an engineering company, Woodard and Curran, that has natural gas interests.
“That is absolutely untrue,” King said. Just 2 percent of Woodard and Curran’s revenues are related to oil and gas work, he said, adding that his natural gas advocacy isn’t at all connected to his board position.
Candidates also talked about reining in the nation’s $16 trillion federal debt.
“The first thing we have to do is get our debt under control, get our spending under control and allow our businesses to grow our way out of this economy,” Summers said.
Dodge, however, criticized Summers for not offering specific proposals for budget cuts. “You’ve got to offer up to the voters what you’ll cut,” he said. “Name me something. We’ve got the Senate and House spending like Paris Hilton on a bender.”
When asked, Summers said he wouldn’t consider tax increases as a part of a proposal to balance the federal budget. “I would agree that we need additional revenues,” he said. “The way we get those revenues is not by raising taxes.”
King called for “a combination of revenues, growth and cuts.” Dill said the United States “can’t afford additional tax cuts. We need tax reform that’s going to benefit working families.”
Dill also said she opposes the Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction plan, citing its recommendations for cuts to Social Security, Medicare and public broadcasting.
Asked about the Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court that has opened the doors to about $5 million in advertising spending so far from outside groups, King, Dill and Woods said they opposed it while Summers defended it. Dodge said he supported stricter disclosure requirements on outside spending.
King called Citizens United “the worst decision by the United States Supreme Court in at least 100 years.”
Summers said a discussion about Citizens United is a discussion about free speech rights. “We’re talking about the most important right we have,” he said, “and that is the right of free speech.”
Summers also accused King of accepting the deep-pocketed support of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg — who on Tuesday hosted a fundraiser for King, has contributed to a third-party campaign to boost King by the nonprofit group Americans Elect and is now starting a super PAC to support King and other candidates — and for running negative ads.
Summers has benefited from more than $3 million in spending on ads from Republican-affiliated groups that attack King, who disputed Summers’ negative ad charge.
“I did an ad and said, ‘Here are the differences between me and Charlie,’” he said. “To be called a negative ad by Charlie is like being called ugly by a toad.”