Five candidates to represent Lincoln County towns in the Maine House of Representatives discussed the COVID-19 emergency, nationwide protests, and climate change during a candidates forum at the Lincoln County Television studio in Newcastle on Thursday, June 4.
The Lincoln County News hosted the forum, the first of two forums for legislative and county-level primaries.
The Democratic and Republican candidates for Maine House District 88, as well as the Republican candidate for Maine House District 90, participated in the physically distanced forum, which had no audience in the studio.
J.W. Oliver, editor of The Lincoln County News, moderated the forum.
LCTV broadcast the forum live on cable television and online, as well as on Facebook. Viewers could also watch and submit questions live through the videoconference platform GoToMeeting.
Early in the forum, Oliver referred to calls for policing reform in local and nationwide protests. He asked the candidates if Maine needs policing reform and, if so, what reforms it should adopt.
Merle Parise, of Newcastle, the sole candidate for the Republican nomination in House District 90, said he supports the protesters and their concerns about policing reform, as long as they are nonviolent.
Parise was invited to participate in the June 11 forum with the Democratic candidates for District 90, but attended the first forum instead due to a scheduling conflict.
House District 90 is Bremen, Bristol, Damariscotta, Monhegan, Newcastle, part of Nobleboro, and part of South Bristol.
Wayne Farrin, of Jefferson, and Christopher Hamilton, of Whitefield, are running for the Democratic nomination in House District 88. Both candidates also expressed support for the protests and policing reform in Maine.
House District 88 is Chelsea, Jefferson, part of Nobleboro, and Whitefield.
Farrin said the majority of recent protests around the country have been peaceful and he hopes they remain that way.
“I think a lot of the protesters are out there and they don’t believe they’re being heard. And I think that’s how it gets out of hand,” Farrin said.
Hamilton said he respects the police and the difficulty of the duties they perform, but also sees the need for reform.
“What we need to do is make sure they have the proper training, awareness, and protocol to know how to use their immense power. Like all of us, they need to be held accountable for their actions,” Hamilton said.
Elizabeth Doyle, of Whitefield, and Michael Lemelin, of Chelsea, are running for the Republican nomination for House District 88.
Doyle said the protests are a symptom of larger divisions in the country. She called on leaders to use language focused on bringing people together, rather than dividing.
Lemelin said Maine does not need policing reform. He suggested arresting felons who are not currently in prison as a method of reform.
“We have 800 felons running around the state. We need to go get them, get them off the streets,” Lemelin said.
Oliver asked the candidates if they believe climate change is an emergency and if so, what action the Legislature should take.
All the candidates expressed support for some transition to renewable energy in Maine, although timelines and methods differed.
Lemelin said he believes climate change is happening, but does not believe it is an emergency. He said renewable energy sources need to become more affordable.
Parise, who has studied climate science, agreed that climate change is an urgent issue that needs to be dealt with, first through risk assessments conducted by public officials.
“You can pay for it now or pay for it later. But before you start paying for anything, you have to go out and do risk assessments,” Parise said.
Farrin said he believes climate change needs to be addressed in a responsible manner.
“I don’t want to devastate the economy by changing things too fast,” Farrin said.
He noted the reduction in pollution that has been observed around the world since COVID-19 stay-at-home orders were issued.
Doyle said she was not going to argue whether climate change was happening or not, because a top priority of hers has always been to protect natural resources.
“From where I stand, we always honor water, air, and land. It seems like a no-brainer; we need these things to live,” Doyle said.
The first question of the evening dealt with how the state will cope with a coronavirus-related revenue shortfall estimated at $500 million to $1.2 billion.
All of the candidates agreed on restarting the economy as a solution to the impending budget shortfall, although they had differing ideas on how to do that.
Lemelin said Gov. Janet Mills needs to reopen the state and restart Maine’s economy immediately. He said COVID-19 is “not that bad here.”
“I know a vast number of small businesses that are not going to be able to open back up. This is going to be disastrous,” Lemelin said.
Hamilton suggested a second wave of COVID-19 cases could occur with reduced public health protocols this summer if the economy reopens too soon. He said he has talked to about 490 constituents and the top concern he has heard is COVID-19 and the potential for a new surge in cases.
Other topics discussed at the forum included the expansion of high-speed internet access in Maine, the candidates’ experience in the Statehouse, and the state’s handling of record unemployment claims.
To view the forum, go to lctv.org.