By Jamela Lewis, Staff Writer
On Monday April 30, at Luther Bonney Talbott Hall six candidates for Governor of Maine gathered for the inaugural 2018 Spring Food Security Dialogue debate. The Food Studies Program at USM provided 24-year old student intern Kayla Buckley, with a professional gig as event planner and moderator. Buckley, an Economics major and Co-Coordinator of the debate says, “It took a matter of two months following the Ending Food Insecurity in Maine symposium for the Food Studies faculty and debate sponsors to come up with a strong set of questions.”
The audience, made of local residents, a large number of political science and economics majors and diverse nationalities, were greeted by Professor Michael Hillard, the Director of the Food Studies Program. Hillard introduced each candidate as they sat attentively in alphabetical order. Kenneth Capron, Age 67, Independent, Retired CPA; Alan Caron, Age 66, Independent Economic Development Consultant; Donna Dion, Age 66, Democrat, Former Mayor of Biddeford; Mark Dion, Age 62, Democrat, State Senator; Terry Hayes, Age 59, Independent, State Treasurer and Betsey Sweet, Age 60, Lobbyist.
Each candidate was given approximately five minutes to elaborate on a plan to resolve one the most pressing issues in Maine, food security. Hayes and Mark Dion spoke mainly on resolving the economic crisis as a means to food insecurity while Caron, Donna Dion and Sweet shifted toward education and implementing more social services as solutions. The debate started with the million-dollar question from the moderator.
“We would like each candidate to share their view on the impacts of poverty,” Buckley stated. “How crucial is it an issue to your candidacy? How does poverty impact Maine? What is the role of the community and of the government in addressing it?”
Capron stated in his answer that he was living on a fixed income in retirement and at month end, “You find you’re not able to go to the grocery store to buy what you want.”
Caron looked back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries as a source of solutions when ”Finding good jobs and building a good life as millworkers, even with 8th grade educations, that generation was able to lift themselves out of poverty and into homes they owned,” he stated.
Donna Dion stated that she has worked directly with non-profits in Biddeford was exposed to homelessness daily working at food banks. She answered, “The issue is not only about affordable wages. This is not an issue, it’s a lifetime problem and the government needs to reinforce the value of citizens to make sure their issues are addressed.”
Mark Dion presently serves as a State Senator for Portland has a long history in law enforcement. He stated, “Food insecurity is code for power and exploitation. It’s the way the power people keep the poor and disadvantage in place by addicting them to a processed diet and the rest is history.”
Terry Hayes concluded that, “Being poor is expensive. We need to step out of the paradigm and pay more attention to looking at our assets-let’s look at Buckfield for growing food and beyond entitlement programs.”
Sweet ended by mentioning that she “had been a single mom for nearly 18 years” and that “poverty is easily resolved with money, but the Right has set the policy agenda for what we can accomplish by placing a large amount of blame on immigrants, single women and the unemployed.”
The moderator ended the debate by asking the candidates what their version of a food secure future in Maine would look like. The candidates resoundingly agreed investing in economic stability is the caveat to getting young people to remain in state. They also expressed a need to grow businesses that support local farms, vocational schools and technology so people can expand in the job market.
Michael Hillard, the Director of the Food Studies Program at USM, later weighed in what he thought of all of the candidates and which one gave the most promising answers to the moderator’s questions.
“Sweet showed the greatest command in directly addressing the questions and homed in on the issues of stigma,” Hillard said. “Mark Dion made it clear to blame corporate capitalism. Donna Dion spoke well on her experience. Caron lacked a fresh perspective. Capron had no serious answers.”
Overall the experience of moderating the debate has helped Buckley become more involved with major food security issues that have been facing Maine. She also expressed a vision of using her degree in food studies to prepare for more responsibility as a spokesperson with policy and planning firms. Buckley hopes to utilize her relationships with senior faculty at USM for a major role in coordinating the upcoming summit in March 2019 when USM will host the Universities Fighting Against World Hunger.
Open forums such as this have become a positive arena for candid discussions revolved around socio and feminist economics and social and environmental justice. Maine college students of voting age are encouraged to get up front and personal with leaders who are potential decision makers of major issues.