After weeks of defending her private jet travel and wealthy fiance, Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree got a chance to go on the offensive during a debate Tuesday, taking her Republican challenger to task for dodging questions on social issues.
In the first of three scheduled debates in the final two weeks of their campaign for the U.S. House of Representatives, Pingree lectured Dean Scontras on WGAN radio about the responsibility of the office, after Scontras took no stand on the Defense of Marriage Act.
“Let me put it this way,” Scontras told WGAN’s morning show co-host Ken Altshuler after being pressed on gay rights. “My issue has been government spending, debts, deficits and jobs. I will not spend one ounce of capital either defending or advocating for DOMA.”
Pingree voiced her support for marriage equality and said that if given the opportunity, she would vote to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, the federal law that defines marriage as between one man and one woman. She then chastised Scontras.
“When Dean says, ‘I choose not to talk about social issues” or “That won’t come before Congress,” I have to say, ‘I’ve spent two years in Washington, and every time you turn around there’s a hate-crime bill or a piece of legislation on ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ or someone’s attempting to attach an amendment on abortion or another social issue,” Pingree said.
“You don’t get to walk away from the tough issues. They’re not easy. Every constituent doesn’t agree on it. You have to go back (to Maine) and defend your position,” she said. “But it’s not OK to just say, ‘Well, I choose not to take a stand on that.’ That’s what the voters ask us to do.”
Pingree, 55, is seeking a second term representing Maine’s 1st Congressional District. Scontras, a 41-year-old businessman from Eliot, is running in his first general election. Both were unopposed in their primaries. They are scheduled for two televised debates, Thursday evening on MPBN and Oct. 26 on WCSH.
During Tuesday morning’s radio debate, Scontras was quick to point out a recent article in Forbes magazine that ranked Maine 50th in the country among the best states for business and careers. He linked Pingree’s eight years in the state Legislature and two in Congress with Maine’s economic struggles.
“We’re not a business-friendly state,” said Scontras, who zeroed in on Pingree’s support for health care and campaign finance reform as examples contributing to that atmosphere. “The last thing we should be doing is taking failed policies like Dirigo and clean elections and taking them to the national level.”
Pingree touted her work in helping to redevelop the Brunswick Naval Air Station and securing federal money to expand broadband Internet service to parts of the state that don’t have high-speed access. She acknowledged the danger of a massive federal budget deficit, but told listeners that it got started with eight years of a Republican administration that included two wars, an unfunded prescription drug plan and significant tax cuts.
“So if you want to talk about fiscal responsibility, let’s talk about the eight years they drove that deficit up and left us with no growth policies,” Pingree said. “This trickle-down economic thing didn’t work. Big tax cuts for the wealthiest didn’t work. And now we’re stuck paying the bills. And you think somehow in two years we managed to create that? That’s just not what happened.”
Scontras has portrayed himself as someone who is willing to stand up to either party. He said Republicans are not without blame for the current debt and deficit.
“I agree, the Bush administration was digging deep,” he said. “This administration, this Congress, has just decided to dig deeper.”
Scontras said the path to economic prosperity is lower taxes and reduced regulation. He supports repealing the federal health care reform law passed earlier this year.
More new legislation, the Fair Pay Act, drew opposing viewpoints from the two candidates. Pingree was one of the bill’s co-sponsors. Scontras said such laws are an unnecessary intrusion by government on industry.
“If a company does not pay somebody – based on their gender or whatever it may be – upon their capabilities, that person is going to walk right next door and work for your competitor,” Scontras said. “I have full faith and confidence, after being in the private market for 20 years, that employers hire the best people and pay them the best wages based on their capabilities.”
Pingree cited studies showing that women earn less than 80 percent of men’s wages for comparable work.
“I just don’t agree with Dean on the idea that all employers will absolutely do the fair thing,” she said. “It just isn’t how it works. It’s why we have a minimum wage in this country. It’s why we have a variety of other labor laws.”
Scontras got a chance to wag a figurative finger at Pingree when talk turned, inevitably, to her use of her fiance’s private jet and his significant help in raising money for her campaign and the Maine Democratic Party.
“If you’re so against hedge funds and Wall Street, you don’t have to take the money,” Scontras said. “If you want to vote against them, fine, but you don’t have to take their money.”
Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at: [email protected]