PORTLAND – Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree and her Republican challenger, Dean Scontras, agree that too many people are out of work, the economy is shaky and the country is overly dependent on foreign oil.

They disagree on how to address those challenges.

The two candidates in Maine’s 1st Congressional District visited MaineToday Media’s endorsement board Wednesday and Thursday. Each spent an hour with the company’s six-member panel.

The candidates answered questions about energy, the economy, taxes, the federal deficit, job creation, health care, social issues and why they would best represent Maine in Washington, D.C.

MaineToday Media owns the Maine Sunday Telegram, The Portland Press Herald, the Kennebec Journal of Augusta, the Morning Sentinel of Waterville and related websites. Endorsements will be published Sunday in the Telegram.

Here is what each candidate said:

DEAN SCONTRAS

Scontras, 41, co-owner of an alternative energy company, knows firsthand the difficulty of securing funding for startup businesses. He said money is available, but investors are unwilling to deploy capital because of uncertainty caused by new and pending legislation involving financial regulations, health care and energy.

“Until we return some certainty to the American investor,” he said, “we’re not going to have any job creation.”

Even with interest rates at historic lows, he said, banks aren’t lending and unemployment remains high. The tax code is too large and complicated and the corporate tax rate is too high.

“We have got to simplify our tax code right now,” he said. “We need to get away from the binary choice of tax cuts for a certain class of people and move to something that will really stimulate the American economy and allow us to be competitive in the global workplace.”

Scontras offered two proposals. One would create a flat tax rate — 15 to 19 percent — for all income levels. The other would abolish all income and embedded taxes and institute a consumption tax of 23 percent.

The current national debt ($13.6 trillion) and the federal government’s penchant for running deficits (all but four years since 1970) threaten our national security and future generations of Americans, Scontras said. Trying to get the debt and the deficit under control is the major theme of his campaign.

As for tax cuts that are due to expire at the end of this year, Scontras said he favors extending them because of his belief that lower taxes increase revenue to the Treasury.

To keep the Social Security system solvent for the foreseeable future, Scontras suggested changes — for people who are now younger than 55 — that include a later retirement age and some sort of government-approved investment option that’s likely to provide a higher rate of return.

He would work to repeal the health-care reform bill passed in March. He said the law is too costly for businesses and its mandatory insurance requirement may be unconstitutional. He said better options for lowering health care costs are medical malpractice reform, allowing the purchase of health insurance across state lines and modernizing health record systems.

Two years after running in the Republican primary as a candidate who opposed abortion rights, civil unions and gay marriage, Scontras said he will steer clear of social issues and abide by current law. He said he is a pro-life Catholic but would “never mix my faith with my politics.”

CHELLIE PINGREE

Pingree, 55, served eight years in the Maine Senate, including two as majority leader, before becoming head of Common Cause in 2003. Maine voters sent her to Congress in 2008, what she described as “clearly the worst economic time since the Great Depression.”

She voted in favor of a $787 billion economic stimulus package that included what she called the biggest tax cut in American history as well as billions for infrastructure improvements. She estimated that $400 million went to Maine, creating or saving 2,000 to 3,000 jobs.

Repaving Interstate 295 from Gardiner to Brunswick, extending Downeaster train service to Brunswick, creating an inner-city health clinic in Portland, increasing broadband Internet access across Maine and investing in weatherization and offshore wind projects were all part of the package.

Pingree said roughly 400 companies or individuals in Maine received Small Business Administration loan guarantees that helped for expansion or simply for surviving a difficult period.

Twenty months later, she wonders whether even more could have been done to advance renewable energy, high-speed rail and broadband access. As the federal deficit grows and she hears calls to cut spending, Pingree said growing the economy and ending the war in Afghanistan are better options.

Enacting an energy bill that passed in the House but stalled in the Senate would create great opportunities for Maine to reduce its dependence on oil, produce more tidal, wind and solar power, and create manufacturing jobs to produce the necessary towers and turbines.

Pingree, a longtime proponent of health care reform, had hoped the bill would include a single-payer or at least a public option to provide more competition. Even without it, she defends the progress achieved by allowing children to remain on parents’ policies until age 26, prohibiting denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions, emphasizing low- or no-cost screenings, encouraging exchanges to allow purchasing insurance across state lines, and providing tax incentives to businesses that enroll more employees.

She said the bill isn’t perfect, but it will help rein in the runaway cost of health care.

Pingree favors extending tax cuts for the middle class, and pointed out that the 3 percent of small businesses in Maine that earn more than $250,000 a year would still be taxed at a lower rate on their first $250,000 in earnings. She questioned how those advocating deficit reduction can simultaneously support tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.

Socially, she supports abortion rights and marriage equality. Despite what often seems like a poisonous political climate in Washington, she spoke of finding common ground with conservative Republicans on campaign finance reform, national security and other issues.

 

Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at: [email protected]