PORTLAND – A few sparks flew at Wednesday night’s Democratic gubernatorial debate, a stark contrast to the previous night’s bland forum involving seven Republican candidates.

Some of the heat among the four Democrats may have been ignited by a new poll that revealed a large pool of undecided voters heading into Tuesday’s primary.

Among Democrats 61.7 percent of those queried said they were undecided. That compares to 47 percent of Republicans.

Rosa Scarcelli took a stab at her opponents — each possessing varying degrees of service in state government. Scarcelli, a businesswoman, has no political experience.

“It’s a citizen government not a career government,” Scarcelli said.

Patrick McGowan proposed cutting the size of the Legislature by one-third to reduce state spending, increasing legislative terms from two to four years, and creating the new position of lieutenant governor. “This is big and this bold,” he said.

“We don’t need another politician in government,” Scarcelli said, of his idea for a lieutenant.

“If you had any experience, you would know how to present this,” snapped McGowan, of the need to gain legislative approval.

None of the candidates, except for Scarcelli, said they would support nuclear power.

“I wouldn’t support a nuclear power plant because no one has ever shown me what could be done with the waste,” Senate Majority Leader Libby Mitchell said.

Steven Rowe, who opposes nuclear power, said radioactive fuel rods from the former Maine Yankee nuclear power are still being stored in Wiscasset, adding “We need to conserve and convert to renewable energy.”

However, Scarcelli took a slightly different view. She said emerging technology could be used to burn those rods.

“We have to be able to adapt and be nimble. I’m not going to draw the line in the sand (on nuclear power),” she said.

McGowan pushed Scarcelli to state whether she would support licensing a nuclear plant.

“Let’s be willing to look into the future and not be stuck in the past,” Scarcelli responded.

Mitchell was asked by the debate’s moderator — television reporter Shannon Moss — if her long track record of government service could be perceived as a liability.

Mitchell has served nine terms in the House of Representatives and three terms in the Senate.

Mitchell, who is also a lawyer and a teacher, said she was proud of her record. “I’m much more than my public service, but let the voters decide on Tuesday,” she said.

Moss asked Rowe, the former state attorney general, about the perception that he had failed to connect with voters.

“I’m not a joker or a slick politician and I don’t speak in sound bites,” Rowe said. “What I am is hard working and honest.”

McGowan, who kicked off his campaign in Fort Kent, described himself as a “non-typical politician” who has hiked, hunted and fished in every part of the state.

“I know this state like the back of my hand,” he said.

If elected, Scarcelli vowed to surround herself with “talented people, not politicians or people who contributed to my campaign.”

The televised debate, held in Hannaford Hall on the campus of the University of Southern Maine, drew about 75 spectators. It was sponsored by Portland ABC affiliate WMTW-TV (Channel 8).

 

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

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