BANGOR, Maine — Democratic gubernatorial contender Libby Mitchell sought to point out the difference between herself and two of her opponents Tuesday without resorting to what she called personal attacks.
Mitchell, who is trailing Republican Paul LePage by 5 percentage points according to a poll released Tuesday, was the last of the five gubernatorial candidates to address the Bangor noontime Rotary Club. After months of having her policy positions portrayed by her opponents as more of the same of what is wrong with Augusta, Mitchell sought to reverse that notion.
“We all want change,” she said to a group of several dozen Bangor-area businesspeople. “I have not met a single person during this campaign who does not want change.”
Mitchell repeated many of the proposals she has voiced in the last several weeks on the campaign trail, such as creating an economic development and energy entity within the governor’s office and seeking public-private partnerships to encourage innovation and job growth.
She repeated her call for a seed capital program funded by revenues from the state’s liquor contract and suggested expanding the Jobs for Maine Graduates program to improve graduation rates. She also said that, if elected, she’d fight to expand pre-kindergarten programs to every school system in Maine.
“We need to create the new generation of entrepreneurs,” she said.
Mitchell, rushing through a brief speech before taking questions from the audience, took aim at the argument that people are tired of partisanship in the State House.
“It’s always bemused me to hear people call for the end of partisan bickering in Maine,” she said. “They must have missed the last legislative session.” Citing five consecutive bipartisan budget votes and a bond package agreement sketched with Republicans last session, Mitchell revived a long-used theme during her campaign: that she is the person who can unite the parties and make much-needed changes in state government.
She contrasted herself with LePage and independent Eliot Cutler, who has 14 percent of voters’ support, according to the Pan Atlantic SMS poll released Tuesday. Mitchell said that unlike LePage, she opposes nuclear power and would not put federal funding for education at risk. Unlike Cutler, Mitchell said, she does not propose eliminating the Board of Environmental Protection, which she says is an important conduit for residents to weigh in on proposals that affect them.
Asked by an audience member what she would do to lower the price of energy in Maine — other than continue the pursuit of wind power, which Mitchell strongly supports — she suggested tapping into natural gas lines that already run through the state to supply businesses and residences. She also suggested negotiating with Hydro-Quebec for more favorable electricity rates. For the short term, Mitchell suggested that energy conservation methods could ease the problem considerably.
Asked how she would reshape the Department of Health and Human Services, Mitchell said it’s a delicate task that will require a consensus-builder such as herself.
“I believe I have the ability to not only talk about the changes we need but to get the Legislature to embrace that change,” she said.
Members of the Rotary told the Bangor Daily News after the event that the series of luncheons with gubernatorial candidates has offered them exposure to candidates whom they otherwise might never have met. Whether the series changed anyone’s preference for the state’s next governor is another question.
“It’s been useful, but it probably didn’t change too many minds in this room,” said Donald Lewis, who added that he wishes more politicians were receptive of nuclear power.
Craig Curtis of Bangor said the quick appearances didn’t allow the candidates enough time to expand on their proposals but offered “small vignettes” of their positions.
“I would have liked to hear more details,” he said.