PRESQUE ISLE — The five candidates for governor on next week’s ballot talked Tuesday about the No. 1 issue on voters’ minds this fall – jobs – and issues specific to northern Maine during their only formal debate in Aroostook County.

Just a week before the election, the candidates repeated their plans and stayed away from direct assaults on each other. About 250 people gathered at Presque Isle Middle School for the debate, sponsored by Leaders Encouraging Aroostook Development and WAGM-TV.

Republican Paul LePage said the state must ease up on regulations that are choking businesses. “We cannot constantly follow the small businesses around with new roadblocks, new regulations and fining them every time they burp,” he said.

Democrat Libby Mitchell said health care costs are too burdensome and are holding businesses back. “It’s critical we get that cost down for working men and women,” she said.

Independent Eliot Cutler said costs must be reduced, such as electricity, energy, health care and public services. “It’s a question of leadership,” he said. “It’s a question of focused, smart strategies.”

Independent Shawn Moody said the state should be run more like a business. “People say you can’t run the state like a business,” he said. “I say we can’t afford not to.”

Independent Kevin Scott said he would look at high-performing states to see what they are doing to succeed. He also pitched his idea of year-round indoor agriculture to supply all schools in the state with locally grown food. “It’s food security,” he said. “It’s employment for every demographic.”

One minor tussle came when LePage accused Mitchell of supporting school district consolidation in the Legislature, and is now speaking out against it.

One question that came from residents was about the state-mandated consolidation and the fact that some rural districts have been penalized financially for not consolidating.

“The good senator voted for consolidation, voted for the penalties, and now she’s against it,” LePage said.

Mitchell responded that once she saw how the program was being implemented, she voted for repeal. “I voted to repeal it in the Senate,” she said. “The implementation was totally wrong.”

The candidates also were asked whether they would pledge to find $900,000 in the budget within the next four years to fund the state’s portion of the 2014 World Acadian Congress. All said they would.

Cutler, who said he has not pledged to find money for special causes thus far in the campaign, said the question poses “a real dilemma for me.”

“If we can’t find it in state government, we’ll raise it privately,” he said.

On another issue that’s important to northern Maine, all of the candidates said they would support some sort of coyote control program to protect the deer herd.

Another question centered on negative advertisements and whether the state could penalize those who take on an opponent.

“You can’t legislate morality,” Scott said. “There is such a thing as freedom of speech.”

LePage said he would like the law to be changed so candidates can affect how money from third parties is spent. Moody said disclosure is key.

“Don’t hide behind the veil or the secrecy of a political action committee,” he said.

 

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