With many voters still undecided on their choice for governor less than a week from the primary elections, Maine’s four Democratic gubernatorial candidates on Wednesday went head to head in a debate televised live from USM.
The seven Republican candidates debated the previous night. Both events were sponsored by WMTW Channel 8 and USM.
The candidates are:
Pat McGowen, 53, of Hallowell, the Democratic nominee for U.S. Congress in Maine’s 2nd District in 1990 and 1992 and most recently commissioner of the Maine Department of Conservation. Libby Mitchell, 69, of Vassalboro, the president of the Maine State Senate. Steve Rowe, 56, Maine’s attorney general for four terms and now a lawyer at Verill Dana, a law firm with offices in Portland, Augusta and Boston. Rosa Scarcelli, 40, the owner and CEO of Stanford Management, a real estate company specializing in affordable housing for the elderly and disabled.
The debate came a day after a poll by the Pan Atlantic SMS Group found that 61% of democrats remain undecided. The debate was seen as a way for candidates to differentiate themselves among a crowded field of candidates.
Questions focused on education, taxes, energy and job creation — Maine currently has an 8.9% unemployment rate.
Scarcelli said that, if elected, she would create a Maine State Bank, which would spend money within the state — not use deposits to fund out-of-state investments.
“There is no silver bullet answer,” said Rowe, of the first thing he would do to bring more jobs to Maine. Maine needs to “increase education, skills and knowledge level of the workforce,” he said, as well as focus on improving the state’s infrastructure.
While Scarcelli and McGowan portrayed themselves as political outsiders, Mitchell and Rowe, both cited their careers in public service as examples of why they would be good governors.
McGowan called for broad reforms to state government, like expanding law makers’ terms from two to four years, and reducing the legislature by one-third.
“It’s a great idea, but it’s not new,” Scarcelli said. Rowe said he saw a benefit in expanding the terms served by legislators.
“The bills that are put in represent what the voters have asked us to do,” Mitchell said in response to McGowan’s assertion that too many bills are brought before the legislature. “The entire cost of the Maine legislature is less than one percent of the state budget,” she said.
“We need fair taxation,” said McGowan, adding that he didn’t think it was fair to raise taxes on just the local level. Scarcelli said Maine should evaluate everything and not just avoid raising taxes. “I will not take a ‘no new tax’ pledge — I think that’s irresponsible,” said Rowe. “I will work with municipalities to make sure we don’t increase property taxes,” he added. “I don’t want people to have to sell their homes.”
All four candidates said they did not support a casino in Oxford County. All seven Republican candidates said the same thing at the debate Tuesday.
The candidates all said the debate was important in reaching new voters and swaying those on the fence.
“Most people are just starting to tune in,” said Mitchell. Turnout for primaries is typically low across the country, she said, though Maine is higher than average. “I really question that number,” she said of the percentage of undecided voters.
“I responded to the questions as best I could,” Rowe said when asked if he thought he succeeded in changing the minds of undecided voters.
Zip Kellogg, a librarian at USM’s Glickman Library, said he thought this would be his last time to see the candidates live before the general election. “There are things you can learn live that you can’t in [media like newspapers and the news],” said Kellogg, who said it’s too “early in the game” to know who to support.
William Mckee, 58, said the debate was a “fact finding mission” for him. He attended yesterday’s Republican debate and said he felt the candidates lacked a lot of charisma.
Sam Shupe, a USM student who asked candidates questions during both debates, said that while he’s still on the fence, he’s leaning towards Mitchell. “I thought Libby [Mitchell] was impressive,” said Shupe, adding she was the “most rounded” candidate.
Christopher O’Connor, the assistant dean of student life at USM, attended the debate, and said he had decided against voting for Scarcelli prior to the event. But he said he was “surprised by a lot of what Rosa had to to say.” While he had previously narrowed down his pick to two candidates, he said he now needs “to go back and look at all of them.”