The conversation was cordial and the political differences were obvious during the first of four candidate forums hosted by The Lincoln County News on Thursday, Sept. 29.
Friends, family, and supporters of seven candidates for state office packed the meeting room in the Wiscasset municipal building for the occasion.
Panelists included candidates for Senate District 23, which consists of Dresden and Sagadahoc County, Matthew R. Brackley, R-West Bath, and Sen. Eloise Adams Vitelli, D-Arrowsic; House District 47, which consists of Alna, Jefferson, Whitefield, and Wiscasset, Leslie T. Fossel Jr., I-Alna, Evan C. Goodkowsky, I-Wiscasset, and Edward Polewarczyk, R-Wiscasset; and House District 53, which consists of Chelsea, Pittston, Randolph, and Dresden, Rep. Michael H. Lemelin, R-Chelsea, and Jane L. Beckwith, D-Randolph.
During the 90-minute session candidates were asked what they were hearing from the voters on the campaign trail and how they would take those issues to Augusta as well as what the Legislature could do to address Maine’s housing needs, support the lobster industry, and help Maine’s small and micro businesses.
Moderator Maia Zewert, LCN acting editor, posed a question to the panel and then each candidate had the floor to discuss the topic for up to two minutes. The format encouraged detailed answers, which often touched on multiple subjects.
In their introductions, all of the candidates mentioned the myriad issues before the state including housing, health care, and inflation.
Fossel said he was running to bring his ability to bring people together and solve problems to Augusta.
“What I do is I find common ground and I solve problems,” Fossel said. “I have been doing that for a long time.”
Goodkowsky said he hoped to help Maine communities like Wiscasset become thriving communities. Polewarczyk said he was running because he saw the need to get involved.
Beckwith said she felt most Mainers want to keep their way of life and develop the economy.
Lemelin said one of the best things about being a representative was the ability to stop frivolous spending. On behalf of the Republican Party, he took credit for the $850 tax rebate check Maine voters received in April.
“We got it through to you and I am pretty proud we got you that money,” he said.
Vitelli said she was seeking a fourth term in the Senate because she remains firm in her belief that everybody deserves a chance to have a healthy, productive life.
“By working together we can ensure that Maine is a place where people of all ages and backgrounds and beliefs,” she said.
Brackley said he was running because he was concerned about a number of issues including regulations, taxes, education, medical freedom, and the state’s illegal drug problem. When he is campaigning door to door, voters most frequently want to discuss inflation and education, he said.
“We’re the fourth highest taxed state in the whole country, and we‘re hurting,” he said. “We’re hurting under that burden and our regulatory burden as well.”
In separate comments, Lemelin, Brackley, and Polewarczyk all stressed the need to reduce regulations and taxes in order to improve Maine’s business climate.
Polewarczyk suggested enticing businesses to come to Maine by removing the state’s income tax, doing something to deal with Maine’s high energy costs, making skilled labor available, and making sure Maine remains a right to work state.
Brackley suggested allowing license reciprocity between states for tradesmen would be the best, quickest way to attract skilled labor to Maine. He also spoke strongly in favor of promoting apprenticeships as a good way to bolster the workforce.
“For the most part we need to get the government out of the way,” he said.
Lemelin suggested an extremely limited role of government.
“Less government, less restrictions on the businesses,” he said, discussing what the legislature could do to support small and micro businesses. “We need to help promote these businesses not just getting them staffing but less taxes on them and also listen to them.”
Saying entrepreneurs are the souls of Maine’s economy, Vitelli talked about coordinating a state program that allowed people to use unemployment insurance to create their own small business.
“There is a lot more we can do to stimulate small businesses in the state,” she said.
Vitelli said she felt the pandemic helped people see what is important in their lives, which she reported was family community, friends, work, and nature. She said people are primarily worried about things they are hearing at the national level.
“What I try to do is assure them that here in Maine, we actually do work together,” she said. “We can’t get very much done at all unless we come together in the middle, and work to resolve the problems facing our state.”
Lemelin said in another comment he did not believe Maine has a housing crisis and even if it did, the state has no role to play addressing it.
“The Legislature cannot and should not even be involved in the housing crisis,” he said. “They have nothing to do with it. It is a community issue. We have to get together as a community and help our own people out.”
Vitelli agreed housing is a problem but what is really needed is workforce housing, she said. Employers in her district, Bath Iron Works and the hospitals have informed her they can’t grow their businesses without places for their employees to live.
“We can’t expect the private sector to do it all,” she said.
Over the course of several answers, Goodkowsky connected broadband infrastructure with housing and workforce development. The best thing the state could do to help businesses is to stay aggressive pursuing broadband development, he said.
“If you can’t have high-speed internet even by 10-years-ago standards, why would you build a house there,” Goodkowsky said. “So if we’ve got a quarter or a third of our state that’s undevelopable because you don’t have typical service, whether you want to consider broadband a necessary service or not, there’s a whole area where people aren’t going to build and then you can’t get any affordable housing in there.”
Fossel said Maine has to find a way to lower housing and healthcare costs. The good news is Maine is now one of the four fastest growing states in the United States, he said. People are moving here and bring their jobs with them. The bad news is housing is unaffordable, he said.
Beckwith suggested supporting a state subsidy to support micro businesses hiring a first employee.
“Sometime a small change can make something that seems impossible, possible,” she said. “When you take a single person business and turn into a three person business, that’s great.”
All of the candidates agreed the state Legislature should do everything it could to support Maine’s lobster industry, specifically in light of a prominent advocacy group Seafood Watch adding lobster to its “red list,” advising consumers to avoid the product due to the fishery’s threat to the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale.
The candidates agreed Seafood Watch was using flawed information, but suggested there was little the state could do beside support legal action and encourage lobster consumption.
“There may be times when an industry has to yield to an important environmental concern, but I don’t think this is it,” Beckwith said.
Polewarczyk said it was a federal issue and there was little the state could do, directly.
“What it comes down to is we have a large group with a large amount of money who really want to install wind power in the lobster zone,” he said. “That’s what this is all about and they’re going to use the right whale as an excuse to get the lobstermen the hell out of that area so we can install wind power. That’s a helluva trade to make because there are a lot of lives involved and a lot of livelihoods involved.”
Brackley said people who work in the lobster industry are true environmentalists.
“They care about the sea life,” he said. “They know it way better than any expert in Washington, D.C. Our state needs to stand up to federal government. We need to stand up to them no matter what it takes, and tell them that we govern our own land and our own coast and they can stay out of it.”
The forum series continued on Monday, Oct. 3 at the Charles E. Sherman Jr. American Legion Post 36 featuring the candidates of Senate District 13 and House District 48. This forum was held in partnership with the Boothbay Register.
The third forum will be held on Thursday, Oct. 6 at the Waldoboro municipal building and feature the candidates for House District 62 and Lincoln County Commissioner District 2.
The fourth forum will be held on Thursday, Oct. 13 at Great Salt Bay Community School in Damariscotta and feature the candidates for Senate District 13, and House Districts 45 and 46.
All forums begin at 6 p.m. For more information, email email@example.com.