BANGOR – Four Democrats who are running for governor said Monday that jobs created by casinos are not the kind of economic development the state needs to pull out of the recession.

Steve Rowe, Senate President Elizabeth Mitchell, Rosa Scarcelli and Patrick McGowan spent 90 minutes focused on the economy and the state budget during a debate sponsored by the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce and Eaton Peabody.

More than 135 people attended the event at Husson University’s Gracie Theatre.

Mitchell, Rowe and McGowan said they oppose a measure on the November ballot to allow a resort casino in Oxford County, while Scarcelli said she wants voters to decide.

“I would not veto a casino if it passed,” she said, adding that the state needs a clear mission for what kinds of jobs it wants to attract.

Mitchell said that while she supports efforts by Maine Indian tribes to expand gambling, she doesn’t support the Oxford County proposal.

“I’m very concerned about losing the quality of life in Maine,” she said.

McGowan said Maine can’t compete with the types of gambling facilities in Connecticut — and it shouldn’t try.

“When we look at businesses of the future, we want high-tech, green energy jobs,” he said.

Rowe, a former attorney general, said the state must attract businesses that do “things smoother, better and faster.”

“I do not see casino gambling as an economic development panacea,” he said.

The candidates didn’t take any direct jabs at each other, during what has become a staple of the primary campaign season — forums sponsored by special interest groups or party committees.

Unlike the seven Republicans who are running for their party’s nomination, the Democrats have had very few squabbles as they campaign to win votes for the June 8 election.

However, Scarcelli did work to differentiate herself from the rest of the candidates — all of whom have held elective office — by saying that she is an outsider who wants to make a difference.

“I felt we needed a choice between a business background and a career in politics,” said Scarcelli, who runs an affordable-housing company.

On the issue of energy, all of the candidates said they support creating a corridor that can be used to send Canadian power south. They all said that Maine must find a way to benefit over the long term by ensuring lower electricity costs.

None of them would take a “no new taxes pledge.”

McGowan, a former state conservation commissioner, said he’s bullish on the future of Maine’s forests. “There are more standing trees today than there have been in 75 years in Maine,” he said.

When asked whether it’s important to continue to have a state Department of Economic and Community Development, Rowe said there needs to be better coordination to create jobs at the state, regional and municipal levels.

He said education creates jobs, and lower health care and energy costs will enable businesses to hire more workers.

McGowan said he would combine the Department of Economic and Community Development with the State Planning Office and the Department of Professional and Financial Regulation.

Scarcelli said she would get rid of the Department of Economic and Community Development and create a “business development office.”

Mitchell said department would take a leading role in her cabinet.

McGowan said that he would increase funding for the state’s university system to 9 percent of the state budget, and that he would not approve a state budget that cuts aid to schools. Nine percent of the state budget now pays for community colleges, the university system and Maine Maritime Academy.

Rowe emphasized the importance of education, particularly early childhood evaluations that would help identify children who need more help earlier so they can stay out of the special education system.

Mitchell said the state needs 40,000 Mainers to get some form of higher education degrees in the next 10 years to provide the workers needed for the jobs of the future. But not everyone can afford college, she said.

 

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

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