LEWISTON – Seven of the eight Republicans who want to be Maine’s next governor shared their views on casinos, nuclear power, and gay marriage Saturday at a Lewiston elementary school.

The Androscoggin County Republican Caucus gave the candidates a chance to address more than 100 people to talk about who they are, why they are running and where they stand on a few major issues.

”If we unify, this is a Republican year,” said William Beardsley, the former president of Husson College who is now running for governor.

The eight Republicans are vying for their party’s nomination in June, while seven Democrats are working their side of the ideological aisle. There are also eight unenrolled candidates and one Green Independent in the race.

The Republicans have criss-crossed the state for weeks to attend various town, city and county caucuses, with one campaign saying it has done at least 35 so far. The caucuses continue for another few weeks until the campaign shifts to forums, debates and the party convention in May.

All Democrats in Maine caucused on a single day in January.

Marsha Graef of Lewiston said she was attending her first caucus Saturday.

”The reason why I’m here is I’m very upset with the federal government and state government,” she said. ”Our current politicians at the state and federal level are just not listening to the people.”

Waterville Mayor Paul LePage, one of the GOP contestants, drew applause when he pulled a copy of the U.S. Constitution from his suit coat pocket and vowed to keep it on his desk as governor.

”I’m going to shrink government and we’re going to reform our regulations,” he said.

Each candidate had eight minutes to give a mini-stump speech, and then the audience had a chance to ask questions. J. Martin Vachon was the only candidate who did not attend.

On the issue of casinos, Sen. Peter Mills, R-Cornville, said he is not in favor of them; Beardsley said he opposes them; Steve Abbott, Matt Jacobson and Les Otten said it should be up to local communities to decide; Bruce Poliquin said he opposes them, but that voters will decide on an Oxford County proposal in November; and LePage said he personally opposes casinos, but that as governor, he thinks it’s a ”private sector issue.”

All of the candidates said they favor bringing nuclear power back to Maine, with some saying that the former site of the Maine Yankee plant in Wiscasset is a good place and others mentioning the Brunswick Naval Air Station and Loring Air Force Base.

During his speech, Otten said he won’t be afraid to veto legislation, referring to the actions of the state’s most recent Republican governor, John McKernan, who served from 1987-1995.

”I will shut down government when it needs to be shut down,” Otten said.

Poliquin touted his business experience, saying he has spent his ”entire professional life in the private sector.”

”I know what it’s like to balance a budget and sign the front of a paycheck,” he said. ”I’ve done it.”

On the issue of gay marriage, Mills said he voted in favor of a gay-marriage bill in the state Senate last year, but that he believes it is an issue that should be decided by voters. Beardsley and Otten said they would veto gay-marriage legislation.

Abbott and Jacobson said they oppose gay marriage, but support civil unions. Poliquin said he believes in the traditional definition of marriage, but that it should be up to voters to decide the issue.

LePage opposes gay marriage, but would support some sort of ”contractual agreement” to help couples with legal issues.

Mills said he has shown he can win races.

”Put me in there and I will do us proud,” he said.

Jacobson cited his work at Maine & Co., which recruits businesses to come to Maine.

”We need to make Maine the easiest place in the world to do business,” he said.

Abbott said he would cut the state’s Dirigo Health program, the state Office of Health Policy and Finance and the State Planning Office.

 

MaineToday Media State House Reporter Susan Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at:

scover@centralmaine.com