SACO – Four Democratic candidates for governor talked about ethics, health care and tax reform Tuesday at a forum held by the Biddeford-Saco Chamber of Commerce & Industry.

The forum drew about 15 people, so candidates Steve Rowe, Patrick McGowan, Rosa Scarcelli and Donna Dion, a Democratic write-in, were able to answer questions in a relaxed setting. Senate President Elizabeth Mitchell did not attend.

“It’s pretty wide open,” Scarcelli said of the June 8 primary election. “Please do your homework.”

The chamber’s executive director, Craig Pendleton, asked the candidates how they would bring a “high level of ethics, credibility and transparency to the governor’s office.”

McGowan, a former member of Gov. John Baldacci’s Cabinet, said Maine already does a good job.

“In 30 years, I’ve never seen an ethical issue with Maine government,” he said.

But Scarcelli, who runs a housing company, said Maine received a failing grade on a recent report for not being more transparent in its spending. She said she would let Mainers know who she’s considering for key government jobs.

“It would be a transparent interview process and transition team,” she said.

Rowe, a former attorney general, said hiring ethical staffers is important. “Ethics is job one,” he said. “There has to be transparency in government.”

On the issue of health care, Rowe said the state can be a leader in reducing costs by working to implement federal changes with other states.

For too long, the emphasis in health care has been in the wrong place, he said.

“We will reduce the cost of health care when our primary objective is to keep people healthy,” he said.

McGowan said he has long been a supporter of single-payer health care and said the state’s attempt to insure more people through Dirigo Health has been a worthy endeavor.

“A lot of people criticized it,” he said, adding that Dirigo has put the state in a good position to implement federal reforms such as insurance exchanges.

Scarcelli said that expanding access to health care in rural areas will be key.

“We need to find an incentive program to get physicians to rural Maine,” she said.

All four of the candidates said they oppose Question 1 on the June 8 ballot, which would repeal tax changes put in place by Democrats. They said the reduction in the income tax from 8.5 percent to 6.5 percent would outweigh the expanded sales taxes.

“For the life of me, I don’t know why most of the Republican Party is against this,” Rowe said.

McGowan said the changes were a long time coming.

“For the first time in many, many decades, the tax system designed in the 1960s is now being updated,” he said.

Scarcelli said she understands that some Republicans didn’t like last-minute changes that carved out exemptions for things such as ski lift tickets. But she supports the law, and said she would look to reform the system even more.

Dion, a former Biddeford mayor, is the only official write-in for the June election. “I’m sort of a displaced child as a Democrat,” she said. “They don’t know how to handle a write-in candidate.”

Democrats are gearing up for their convention this weekend in Lewiston. The four candidates on the ballot will get a chance to address the crowd of more than 1,000 that is expected for the two-day event.

Seven Republicans are running for their party’s gubernatorial nomination. They have been invited by the Biddeford-Saco chamber to participate in a similar forum tonight.

 

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