NORTH YARMOUTH — The seven Republican candidates for governor worked to drive home their key messages while also differentiating themselves at a Saturday night forum.

It was the first gathering of the seven GOP hopefuls since the Republican primary field was set on Monday when the candidates turned in their qualifying signatures.

Held at the Wescustogo Grange Hall, the forum was hosted by the town Republican committees of Cumberland, Falmouth, Gray, New Gloucester, North Yarmouth, Pownal and Yarmouth.

It was hosted by Tarren Bragdon, CEO of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a conservative, Portland-based think-tank that focuses on free market issues.

Following opening remarks from the candidates, Bragdon worked to give the 200-plus people in attendance a sampling of perspectives from each candidate on a variety of issues.

Bragdon asked the candidates what social issues question they’d prefer to get, and how would they answer it.

Two candidates who lean toward conservative social issues spoke directly to them.

Bill Beardsley talked about the “sanctity of life,” and mentioned the death penalty, euthanasia and suicide.

“We’ve got to go back and cherish human beings and who they are,” he said.

Paul LePage noted his anti-abortion stance, and actually drew some laughs with his response.

“Being one of 18 kids, you gotta be pro-life,” he said to applause and laughter. “After all, it could have been me.”

Candidates pushing their business background generally leaned their responses that way. Les Otten said the greatest social issue to him was the economy. “Jobs are the social issue of the day,” he said.

Bruce Poliquin questioned how Maine could retain its social fabric when young people are leaving to find jobs, and grandparents are leaving to live somewhere cheaper.

Steve Abbott spoke about welfare reform, and said the current welfare society was “degrading our work ethic and personal values.”

Similarly, Matt Jacobson said the current philosophy in Augusta is that “they think their mission is to take care of people, to keep people in poverty.” Government should facilitate economic opportunities so people can take care of themselves, he said.

And Peter Mills noted that there were 430 babies born in Maine last year addicted to opiates, and 160 people died over overdoses from abusing prescription drugs.

“We have build up an atmosphere and culture of ultra-dependency that needs to be reversed by the next governor,” he said.

Bragdon asked several candidates what Democrat they would like to face in the November general election.

Jacobson, laughing, suggested Elizabeth Mitchell, who he said was “the personification of the problem” in Augusta.

“I think it’s time we hold her accountable, and I want a shot,”

Abbott agreed.

“I can’t conceive of an issue where we can possibly agree,” he said.

Poliquin said he would be happy to face any “institutional candidate” — in order to draw a contrast with his private sector management experience.

LePage said he had no preference.

“Running against them would be a breeze compared to the folks on this side,” he said.

Bragdon also asked a series of questions looking for “yes” or “no” answers, providing a quick temperature check of the field for the audience. The simple answers revealed some differences among the GOP hopefuls.

Would you allow public charter schools as governor? All responded “yes.” Would you support new restrictions on gun ownership? All said “no.” Would you allow health insurance plans in other states to operate in Maine? All said “yes.”

Would you support repealing the state’s clean elections program? All said yes. Mills, who’s running as a clean election candidate, said he’s support it if it went through a referendum vote. (The program was approved by voters in 1996 through a referendum).

Would you veto an attempt to change the term-limits law? All said “no” except for Poliquin.

Would you support civil unions for gay men and lesbians? All said “yes” except for Beardsley and LePage.

Would you support funding — federal or state — to expand passenger rail service beyond Portland. Jacobson, Mills and Abbott said “yes.” Otten said “maybe,” and Beardsley said “not now.” LePage said “no,” and Poliquin said “Maine is broke and we have no new money.”

And would you support an Oxford County casino?

Otten and Abbott said “yes.” An uncomfortable Jacobson said “maybe,” then “yes.” Likewise, LePage said he was conflicted, but answered “yes.” Mills, Beardsley and Poliquin all answered “no.”

 

Staff Writer Matt Wickenheiser can be contacted at 791-6316 or at:

mwickenheiser@pressherald.com