ROCKPORT – A dozen candidates for governor stressed the importance of Maine’s fishing heritage at a forum on Friday, but differed on how best to help one of the state’s oldest and most important industries.

The three-day Maine Fishermen’s Forum at the Samoset Resort is designed to draw attention to the issues facing the state’s commercial fishermen.

This year, the group invited some of the candidates for governor to a forum. Four Democrats, six Republicans, a Green Independent and an independent candidate got a chance to address about 100 people and to answer questions.

Candidates were asked what they would have done to prevent next month’s closing of the sardine cannery in Prospect Harbor, how strongly they would advocate for Maine fishermen and what can be done to attract seafood processing plants to Maine.

Green Independent Lynne Williams said the state has fast-tracked approvals for wind power projects and should do the same for seafood processing plants. “We need to identify those economic entities we need in this state and then go after them,” she said.

Republican Matt Jacobson said it takes too long for businesses to get approval from the government when they try to locate in Maine. He said Massachusetts law dictates that approvals or denials be issued within 125 days.

“In Maine, we’re five years to maybe,” he said.

Some in the audience wanted to know about other areas of policy that affect their lives, such as education, energy costs and whether offshore wind turbines would affect fishing.

Democrat John Richardson said Maine must generate its own energy and stop sending billions of dollars a year out of state to pay for heating oil and other energy needs.

“We can’t afford not to produce it,” he said, but he would want input from the fishing industry about new sources of energy. “You’ve got to be at the table.”

Independent Eliot Cutler said he has experience negotiating with businesses in Asia and China that he would use to help the fishing industry.

“The community and harbors on the Maine coast are the heart and soul of the state of Maine,” he said. “As governor, I will help you create and strengthen the Maine brand. I have done it before.”

On education, Republican Steve Abbott said Maine needs to be more innovative by allowing charter schools and instituting merit pay for teachers.

He was critical of recent efforts to require school districts to consolidate, saying it would have been better to offer incentives, rather than penalties, and phase it in slower.

Democrat Rosa Scarcelli criticized the current state government, saying she’s running to provide a choice to Democrats who want change. “Maine can’t continue to survive on 24-month budget cycles,” she said.

Democrats and Republicans are working to win party nominations in June.

Republican Les Otten said taxes are too high and jobs are too scarce in Maine, and as a businessman he has the experience to lead the state.

When it comes to fishing, he said he would fight federal regulations that help other countries while hurting Maine. “I’ll be the biggest pain in the butt to Washington,” Otten said.

Senate President Elizabeth Mitchell, D-Vassalboro, said state government — Democrats in particular — have been responsive to the needs of citizens.

“We are not the enemy,” she said. “We do not feel we have ruined Augusta for the last 40 years.”

Republican Bruce Poliquin offered a different view, saying his private-sector experience would improve state government.

“Augusta has a problem with management,” he said. “That’s why we’re all experiencing one of the worst business economies in the country.”

Democrat Steve Rowe said commercial fishermen and lobstermen need access to capital, stable year-round populations in island communities, and lower health care costs. He said the state Department of Marine Resources should be a Cabinet-level agency in the state.

Sen. Peter Mills, R-Cornville, said he disagrees with current efforts to consolidate some functions of natural resource agencies, including the Department of Marine Resources.

He suggested directing a portion of the state’s meals-and-lodging tax to support marine industries, and said the state needs money and personnel to lobby in Washington. “There’s no avoiding the fact that the feds are running the show in many respects,” he said.

Waterville Mayor Paul LePage, a Republican, stressed his fiscal accomplishments at the local level, saying the city has saved money over the years to prepare for state budget cuts. “I know what it is to be put into economic slavery by your state government and federal government,” he said.

 

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

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