PORTLAND – Three of the five gubernatorial candidates on the Nov. 2 ballot appeared before MaineToday Media’s endorsement board Wednesday with hopes of getting the company’s backing before the election.
Independent Eliot Cutler, Democrat Libby Mitchell and independent Shawn Moody each spent an hour with the media company’s nine-member endorsement board, which includes employees from the editorial, features and human resources departments. Republican Paul LePage and independent Kevin Scott declined invitations.
Polls show LePage leading the race, with Mitchell close behind and Cutler third. Recent polls also show a large number of undecided voters less than two weeks before the election.
MaineToday Media owns the Maine Sunday Telegram, The Portland Press Herald, the Kennebec Journal of Augusta, the Morning Sentinel of Waterville and related websites.
Last weekend, the Bangor Daily News endorsed Cutler.
The candidates were asked Wednesday about the economy, education, energy and other topics. Reporters who are not members of the endorsement board sat in on the interviews. Here is a synopsis of what each candidate said:
Cutler said the state is in bad shape and needs major changes. “We are the oldest, fattest, whitest and now one of the poorest states in America,” he said. “We need to change the conditions that led us to that set of circumstances.”
n He said he is committed to protecting the environment, but the state’s regulatory process is too cumbersome and its land-use planning process is too passive. He said the Board of Environmental Protection, a citizen oversight board, should be eliminated because it creates a review process that is so long and uncertain that it scares away investors.
He said that regulation of the state’s unorganized territories, now done by the Land Use Regulation Commission, should be transferred to the Department of Environmental Protection to give LURC time to do long-range planning.
• The Department of Economic and Community Development should be renamed the Department of Commerce and Tourism, Cutler said, and include the Finance Authority of Maine, the State Planning Office and the Maine International Trade Center.
• He said the state should hold a constitutional convention to consider sweeping changes to the structure of its government, such as creating a smaller Legislature with a single chamber.
• Lowering the cost of electricity, Cutler said, is the “single key for opening the door for being more competitive and pulling in more investment.” He said the state should issue tax-exempt revenue bonds to fund electricity production projects that would give Maine industries cheaper power.
• Cutler said the state’s K-12 education system is among the most expensive in the nation per capita but delivers only mediocre results. Among his proposed changes: He would lengthen the state’s 175-day school year, which is 50 days shorter than China’s school year; he would push to create charter schools and pay teachers based on their performance; and he would increase the size of classes.
Cutler said he would merge the state’s university and community college systems into one system that would report to the governor through the Department of Education.
• He said he would control health care costs by developing systems that focus on making people healthier and preventing chronic diseases.
Mitchell, Maine’s Senate president, said she wants to continue to invest in infrastructure projects to help the state prosper. She said the state’s purchase of the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic rail line in northern Maine is an example of the important role state government can play in preserving jobs.
Mitchell also highlighted:
• Her plan to merge three state departments — Economic and Community Development, Energy Independence and the State Planning Office — into one executive-level agency.
• Pine Tree Zones, which give businesses tax breaks for bringing new jobs to the state.
• The importance of education, and her proposal to renegotiate the state’s liquor distribution contract early to free up money for scholarships.
• Her plan to bring preschool to all schools in Maine.
• Her belief that the state will not be able to fund schools at the 55 percent level in the coming fiscal year because of the recession.
• The importance of conserving energy, extending natural gas lines, working with Canada to get cheaper prices and focusing on renewable sources, such as wind and tidal power, that can become new industries in the state.
• Her commitment to pay down the state’s pension debt, which will have to “come off the top” of the state budget because the liability must be paid by 2028.
• Her belief that Mainers “cannot afford a tax increase at this time.”
• Her support for same-sex marriage.
Moody said he views the governor’s job much as he views being the head of Moody’s Collision Centers, based in Gorham. It’s about setting the right tone for cooperation and innovative ideas, he said, while being a “quiet, unassuming” leader who doesn’t take credit and builds legislative consensus through “subtlety and humor.”
• On job creation, Moody said it’s key to help small businesses grow. He said the state should develop a comprehensive “portal” so people know what jobs are available, especially in emerging technology fields such as bioscience.
On balance, Moody said, it’s important to train young people for skilled careers while recognizing the importance of jobs in the state’s service industry.
• Education is key, Moody said, and the state should try to reduce the number of high school dropouts by offering more training programs, in trade skills and co-ops, when students are younger. Degrees at Maine colleges must be better aligned with available jobs in the state, he said.
His Department of Education would seek to collect comprehensive data, with the aid of exit-style interviews, to figure out why young people are leaving school and what options they want.
• Reducing energy costs is an important component of helping businesses grow, Moody said. He advocated for more funding for residential and commercial weatherization, and programs through Efficiency Maine.
He also said subsidies should be increased to promote alternative forms of energy.
• Who would serve in a Moody administration? “I’d challenge people in the private sector; I’m confident you’d get people to step up,” Moody said. “A lot of people like myself would like to get involved like we’ve never seen before.”
• Why did he wait until June to declare his candidacy? Moody said he was waiting to see who the Republicans and Democrats would nominate, and he found LePage and Mitchell to be “perimeter party candidates” he couldn’t support.
Despite being a long shot, Moody said he has never considered dropping out of the race. “I put my neck out for the right reason,” he said. “To me, it’s an investment in the state of Maine to bring these issues to the forefront.”
Portland Press Herald Staff Writer Tom Bell and Scott Monroe of the Morning Sentinel contributed to this report.