ROCKLAND – Four of Maine’s five candidates for governor talked about affordable housing, the fishing industry, education and even car inspection stickers Friday during a forum sponsored by the Island Institute and the Maine Islands Coalition.

The first forum of the fall campaign season gave the candidates a chance to talk policy — and trade a few barbs — in front of a crowd of about 75 at the Strand Theatre.

Right from the start, independent Eliot Cutler criticized Republican Paul LePage for having said during the primary that he would support oil drilling off the coast of Maine.

“I wish Paul LePage were here today, because one of the things we need to make clear is, we’re not going to allow any drilling offshore in Maine,” Cutler said. “I find Paul’s support for offshore drilling unconscionable.”

LePage, the mayor of Waterville, did not attend the forum because of a scheduling conflict, said his campaign chief of staff John Morris.

Deputy campaign manager John McGough said LePage supports “any type of new energy source that will lower the cost of energy in Maine.”

He went on to say that LePage is focused on “pocketbook” issues, and the campaign doesn’t hear many Mainers talking about offshore drilling.

“It’s one of those red herring issues,” he said. “I think it’s a political consultant issue.”

Cutler, a Cape Elizabeth resident, was joined at the forum by Senate President Elizabeth Mitchell of Vassalboro, the Democratic nominee; and independents Shawn Moody of Gorham and Kevin Scott of Andover.

The forum, moderated by WCSH-TV reporter Don Carrigan, was designed to focus on four topics of particular interest to islanders: alternative energy, fisheries, affordable housing and education. Experts in each area gave brief statements about the issues and talked about the importance of the state’s 15 islands that are occupied year-round.

On the topic of education, Mitchell said the state introduced laptop computers into schools but didn’t keep up with trends in education. She said her education commissioner would be “a bold visionary.”

“When my 2-year-old grandson goes bowling on his mother’s iPhone, I know we are behind,” she said.

She said the state doesn’t need more federal mandates such as No Child Left Behind, but it should find creative teachers and principals who will improve education at their schools.

Moody said the lobster industry needs to find new markets by changing the way they offer their products. He compared shipping live lobsters to going to the store to buy a live chicken.

“We have a whole generation of people who aren’t interested in dismantling their food,” he said.

Scott, who runs a company that places engineers with high-tech firms, said islanders who worry about a lack of affordable housing can look to existing tax-break programs to help keep year-round residents on the islands.

“Maine is a group of small municipal governments and the islands are no exception,” he said.

During a discussion about roads, Cutler said he would eliminate the requirement that cars get inspected once a year. He said there’s no proof that the inspections prevent “accidents, fatalities or injuries.”

The state hires staffers to oversee the inspection stations, a cost that can be eliminated if the program is dropped, he said.

But Moody, owner of Moody’s Collision Centers, said many states without inspection programs are in the South, where there’s no ice or salt on the roads. “It’s unsafe, it’s not practical (to eliminate the program),” he said.

To better market the state’s lobster industry, Mitchell said she wants to see a coalition formed to find a way to pay for more advertising. She said dairy farmers successfully created a price stabilization program by working together with lawmakers.

After Cutler said the state’s economy “is dead in the water,” Scott followed up by saying the state’s small businesses could help spark new life.

“We are not dead in any water,” he said. “We might be stuck in the middle of a stream and I am the swim coach.”

 

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