BREWER, Maine — The differences between the two candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for Maine’s 2nd Congressional District seat were few but significant, as evidenced by their debate at Jeff’s Catering on Thursday.
Though state Sens. Emily Cain of Orono and Troy Jackson of Allagash agree on many of the policy issues discussed, such as their support of the Affordable Care Act and renewable energy, their views diverged when they were asked about a national park that has been proposed in the North Maine Woods.
“When it comes to the national park, I can see a path for it,” said Cain, who has served as a state legislator since 2004 and is a graduate of the University of Maine and Harvard University, with a background in higher education.
“I could absolutely see why someone would be excited about sharing that with people for generations to come, with that type of protection,” she said, noting she had visited the area in the Katahdin region where local landowners have proposed a national park.
Jackson said he was not in favor of creating a second national park in Maine, explaining that when regulations increased on the Allagash Wilderness Waterway, access became more limited for the region’s local residents.
“Every time we have one of these debates about parks there’s going to be people saying, ‘We don’t want to see you Ski-Dooing there; we don’t want to see you hunting and fishing there because that’s not our idea of a wild scenic area,’” he said. Jackson has served in the state Legislature since 2002 and is also a logger from Allagash. He has been referred to as a “throwback” to the rural populist congressmen elected during the Great Depression.
“To some people, in their mind’s eye, if I’m there camping with my family, I’m an eyesore to them,” he said, explaining why he’s not in favor of the regulations that would come along with turning part of the North Maine Woods into a national park. “I’ve ruined their wild scenic area.”
“The proposal right now includes hunting, snowmobiling, all of the traditional Maine uses,” said Cain in a rebuttal. “I think that has to be included in the final outcome and that will be a priority for me.”
The candidates also differed when asked about the Common Core, a set of education standards adopted by 44 states, including Maine. Students in Maine will be tested on the standards for the first time next year.
“I think Common Core doesn’t go far enough,” Cain said, indicating her support for the standards, but adding they should be accompanied by support for prekindergarten programs and teachers.
Jackson took the opportunity to express his disapproval of standardized testing, which existed long before the standards were adopted, but will become more rigorous when students are tested on the Common Core, educators say.
Both candidates came out against fracking, a method of extracting oil or natural gas using water under high pressure, and in favor of finding other energy sources, such as wind. Their candid responses impressed John Porter, president of the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce, which hosted the event and submitted questions.
“Fracking is a hard issue for Democrats,” he said.
About 40 people attended the debate, which was moderated by Tony Ronzio, director of news and audience for BDN Maine, and sponsored by the Bangor Daily News and Bangor Natural Gas.
After the debate, the candidates shook hands and exchanged laughs. But when questioned individually, they made clear their differences.
Cain said her support for marriage equality, a woman’s right to choose and her record on the environment sets her apart from her opponent.
“Those are the differences that don’t come up in this kind of forum,” she said.
Jackson also saved his harsher words for after the debate.
“She’s interested in going into a room and coming out with a deal no matter what happens,” he said of Cain, explaining that there are values he would not compromise.