BREWER – Republican Paul LePage and independent Eliot Cutler, two of Maine’s five candidates for governor, talked about energy, education and welfare Thursday night at a forum sponsored by the forest products industry.

Cutler, a lawyer from Cape Elizabeth, said the state must find a way to lower electricity costs to help all businesses succeed. He said he would create an energy finance authority, negotiate with Canada to get hydroelectric power and move natural gas up the Kennebec, Androscoggin and Penobscot rivers.

LePage, Waterville’s mayor and the general manager of the Marden’s retail chain, said he would look for ways to lower energy costs for residents and commercial users. He criticized Cutler for suggesting the need for an energy finance authority.

“He’s looking at growing government and I’m looking at shrinking it,” LePage said. “Authorities are nothing but an arm of government.”

Cutler said the authority would employ five people, at most, and would bring cheap capital to the state.

“I want to generate lower-cost electricity in this state, and I know how to do it,” Cutler said. “Pulling the state out of the abyss we are falling into we’ve got to think beyond conventional thinking.”

The Speaking from the Stump forum was sponsored by the Maine Forest Products Council, the Forest Resources Association, the Small Woodland Owners Association of Maine and the Maine Pulp and Paper Association.

The groups invited Cutler, LePage and Democrat Libby Mitchell. Mitchell declined to participate because two other candidates on the Nov. 2 ballot — independents Shawn Moody of Gorham and Kevin Scott of Andover — were not invited.

Joel Swanton of the Forest Resources Association said the groups invited only the “leading” candidates because they wanted to allow enough time for in-depth answers. Moody and Scott were given an opportunity to meet individually with the boards, he said.

Thursday’s format gave audience members a chance to control the discussion.

One asked what the candidates would want President Obama to do to help Maine.

Cutler, who said he voted for Obama, said he disagrees with the way stimulus money has been spent. “I would ask him to stop spending money on artificial stimulus,” he said.

LePage offered a short answer. “I’d ask him to get out of my state,” he said, drawing laughs from the crowd.

On the issue of education, LePage said he’s looking for ways to make at least some level of higher education cheaper for Maine students.

“We’re exploring going to a five-year high school where you can graduate with an associate’s degree,” he said.

Also, he said schools can do a better job of specializing in the trades. He was critical of school district consolidation put in place by Gov. John Baldacci and the Legislature.

“Consolidation could have worked if it wasn’t rammed down our throats,” LePage said. “They could have offered specialization.”

Cutler said he would support charter schools, tie teachers’ pay to students’ performance, and merge Maine’s community colleges and university system.

“There is massive change and reform that needs to take place in that system,” he said. “Once we do that, I think we can start looking at more investment.”

On the issue of welfare, Le- Page emphasized his campaign pledge to establish a tiered system and a five-year lifetime limit. If someone exceeds the limit, he said, “we’ll buy you a bus ticket to Massachusetts and you can start over,” he said, drawing laughter. Cutler quickly said, “It’s not funny.”

Toward the end of the forum, Cutler said he would be better at working with Democrats than LePage and better at working with Republicans than Mitchell.

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

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