BANGOR — The proper role of the government emerged as a central theme as the two candidates in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District clashed during a debate Tuesday.
U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, a Democrat, defended his legislative record and said he has worked in a bipartisan way to address issues that are important to Mainers.
His Republican challenger, Jason Levesque, used nearly every opportunity to criticize Michaud’s record, saying the four-term congressman has supported legislation that has killed jobs, increased debt and dangerously expanded the federal government’s control.
The men also got personal.
“You can tell I came from a manufacturing sector and my opponent is from the telemarketing sector,” Michaud said. “When he gets off the talking points from Washington Republicans, there’s not much there.”
Levesque, a businessman from Auburn who owns the Argo Marketing Group, bristled at the comment by Michaud, a former millworker from East Millinocket.
“You’re going to belittle all jobs other than manufacturing — who else can you insult today?” Levesque riposted. “I started a business. I know what it’s like to pay both sides of the paycheck.”
The debate, hosted by the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce, was held in front of about 60 people at the Spectacular Events Center. Mark Woodward, former Bangor Daily News editor, moderated.
The candidates differed sharply on every question.
Levesque said he supports extending the so-called Bush tax cuts, including those for people with incomes greater than $250,000 a year, because not doing so would hurt small business and “tax the very people who create jobs, the very people in this room.”
Michaud didn’t say directly whether he supports extending all of the tax cuts, but he said the federal deficit “is one of my biggest concerns” and the Bush administration created the debt problem with wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the prescription-drug bill and tax cuts that were “not paid for.”
Levesque shot back, “Stop blaming George Bush.”
Asked about the health care overhaul and its “individual mandate” provision that takes effect in 2014, Michaud said the bill is “not perfect” but he thinks its provisions “move us in the right direction.”
Michaud said the bill will set up exchanges so businesses can pool insurance coverage together, which is “extremely important to hold down costs.”
Levesque said the health care bill is hurting businesses, and stated that he’d support a full repeal of “Obamacare” while pursuing legislation to limit medical malpractice lawsuits, allowing interstate insurance purchasing and more business pooling.
On energy, Levesque criticized the House approval of cap-and-trade legislation to limit greenhouse gas emissions, saying it will drive energy costs up. He supports instead drilling for more oil in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, seeking more power through nuclear power, hydro and tidal, while devising a “comprehensive energy strategy” to lower utility costs.
Michaud defended the cap-and-trade legislation, saying it will help Maine by promoting biomass industries.