BANGOR — Four of Maine’s candidates for governor took gentle jabs at each other Tuesday night during a forum focused on Maine’s quality of place.

In particular, independent Eliot Cutler and Democrat Libby Mitchell clashed on tax, spending and regulatory issues. Independents Kevin Scott and Shawn Moody participated as well, but Republican Paul LePage did not attend the forum.

To conserve land, Mitchell, the state Senate president, said she would want to invest more state money in the Land for Maine’s Future program, which is supported by voter-approved borrowing. She said the state has to ensure that land remains open to the public.

“Maine has changed dramatically since the paper companies sold off their land,” she said. “We have to continue to acquire public land.”

Cutler, an attorney who was a staffer for Sen. Edmund Muskie, said the state can’t afford it right now.

“The fact is, we’re not going to have the kind of money we need to have to keep buying land in Maine,” he said.

The two had a similar discussion about tax credits, with Mitchell saying they have worked to spark redevelopment in places like the former Hathaway shirt factory in Waterville.

But Cutler said tax credits cost money, and with a looming budget deficit pegged at $1 billion – and $3.5 billion in tax credits on the books – the state must be careful. That left Moody an opening.

“Let’s clarify the difference between spending and investment,” he said. “When you invest, you get a return.”

Moody, the founder of five auto-body shops in southern Maine, got the biggest laugh of the night when he mentioned Lady Gaga, the pop star who was in Maine on Monday to promote the repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy for gays and lesbians.

Moody was making a point about how the state should focus on helping businesses expand to create jobs. “It’s time to stop looking for big corporations, the Chinese or Lady Gaga for that matter,” he said, drawing laughs from the 125 people gathered at the Bangor Opera House.

The forum was organized by GrowSmart Maine, the Bicycle Coalition of Maine and others who are interested in balancing job growth with protecting the environment.

The event was at least the second forum of the day for most of the candidates, who had gathered earlier in Waterville for a discussion of issues affecting the elderly. Five more forums or debates are planned this week for the five candidates who will appear on the Nov. 2 ballot.

On Tuesday night in Bangor, Scott, who runs a corporate recruiting company, emphasized the need for local control and decision making.

“We really need to move away from a model where we are putting out regulations and it’s a one size fits all,” he said.

When it comes to regulations, Cutler said he would create an Office of Regulatory Review and Repeal to get rid of red tape that makes it difficult for companies to succeed.

“It would be a new effort to make sure in Maine that we don’t do dumb things,” he said.

Mitchell said she would worry about such an office if it were under the direct supervision of the governor.

“The governor’s office is political,” she said. “To have that the ultimate review board of whether that is good or bad gives me pause.”

 

MaineToday Media State House Writer Susan Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at: scover@centralmaine.com