Hannaford Lecture Hall at USM was almost full on Oct. 4. with spectators coming to observe five senatorial candidates debate political issues affecting Maine women and girls.
Candidates Angus King, Danny Dalton, Steve Woods, Cynthia Dill and Andrew Dodge debated the Affirmative Care Act, Family Planning, Medicare, social security and more.
Republican candidate Charlie Summers was not present at the debate, as observed individually in stabs by each of the candidates. The Summers campaign explained in a statement to The Free Press that Summers was unable to attend because he was meeting with the Maine Lobstermen’s Association in Rockland. This is one of many forums that Summers has declined to attend, including events hosted by both the Maine Women’s Policy Center as well as the Maine Municipal Association.
In a statement to MPBN about Summers’ declination to attend the event, Eliza Townsend, the Executive Director of the MWPC stated, “we received an email on the Sept. 26 from his scheduler saying that they would be focusing their energies on town halls around the state. We were obviously disappointed and reminded the campaign that he’d been committed for a good long time.”
MMA spokesman Eric Conrad relayed a similar message.
When asked to respond to comments by King and the others about his absence, the Summers campaign responded with a pointed statement to the Free Press: “Angus King is entitled to run his campaign how he sees fit, but the last person we’ll take advice from on strategy is a candidate who has taken a 25 point nosedive in the polls.”
Lauren Webster, Assistant to the Director of the Women & Gender Studies department, was also very disappointed in Summers’ actions. As a coordinator of communications outreach for the debates she said,“we were very disappointed, not only because Summers declined, but because he had previously confirmed that he would be there, and then changed his mind.”
King opened the forum with a theme that persisted throughout the debate. “Washington is broken,” he said talking about the ineffectiveness of what he referred to as “partisan gridlock.” Both he and Dodge repeatedly commented about what they see as petty conflict between partisan groups.
Democratic candidate Dill denounced King’s claims inefficiency due to partisan politics, proposing instead that the issue stems from the fact that “older, very wealthy, white men” dominate the political sphere.
“The system in Washington, the congress, is only 17 percent women, in the U.S. senate, and that is the least representation of women in government in any developed country, including Rwanda and Afghanistan,” she said.
According to Dill, a lack of sexual and ethnic diversity also contribute to this inefficiency. The remedy, she says, is that Maine “needs a progressive, Democratic woman,” as a representative.
When asked about the Affordable Care Act, more commonly referred to as “Obamacare,” all of the candidates, regardless of party, were largely in support of the ACA. Dalton and Woods asserted that the focus needs to be on preventative care, and that partisan politics needs to butt out. King also claimed that even though he has always supported the ACA, he still believes that there are some kinks that need working out.
“Execution is as important as vision,” King said. He strongly agrees that it’s “just not right” that insurance or health care should be unavailable to American citizens.
Dill had a different response. She denounced the single payer system and claiming that the only major problem with the ACA is that it doesn’t go far enough. She claimed that the ACA was only the first step in a very long journey.
“Women are no longer considered to be a preexisting condition by nature of their gender,” said Dill.
After calling into question King’s position on co-pays for contraception, she claimed to support Obama in his plan to improve healthcare, and was responded to by a brief, but emphatic, applause by a few members of the audience.
All of the candidates, except Dalton, called themselves pro-choice. Dalton avoided debate on the topic of abortion and family planning after that. For King, denying funding for Planned Parenthood would be downright “nuts,” observing that providing funds for family planning and contraception is actually the most effective way of avoiding a situation requiring abortion. He went so far as to claim that they should double the funds. Dill took it a step further.
“I will fight with every ounce of my being, with every effort, to liberate federal funding to Family Planning purposes,” said Dill.
According to Dill, poverty levels for women are much higher than those for men, and those for women of color are even higher. She stated without any reservations that such an investment is “essential for women’s health.”
Webster and Townsend were very excited to see all six of the candidates represented in a forum pertaining to women’s issues, and Townsend touted the debate as a great success, especially highlighting the input team who collectively designed the questions.
Her only complaint was that some of the candidates didn’t play by the rules.
“I thought the questions were definitively yes or no,” Dill stated, “I would have liked to have seen the candidates answer in a more straightforward manner. The question I would ask of any campaign is, ‘can your candidate follow directions?’”
However, Townsend was greatly pleased by the event.
“The communications input group did a fabulous job,” said Townsend. “Their poignant questions effectively reflected not only the interests of women and girls in Maine, but issues of interest to all people.”