PRESQUE ISLE — Four Republicans who hope to become Maine’s next U.S. senator appealed to northern Maine voters Thursday, saying they would fight runaway spending, overturn health care reform and defend the Constitution.
Former state Sen. Rick Bennett, Scott D’Amboise, Attorney General William Schneider and Secretary of State Charlie Summers discussed energy, health care, the federal debt and other topics during the first of nine GOP candidate forums to be held around the state before the June 12 primary.
Two other Republican candidates, state Sen. Debra Plowman and state Treasurer Bruce Poliquin, did not participate.
The four Democratic candidates held their first debate Saturday in Portland.
About 75 voters from Aroostook County attended Thursday’s two-hour forum at the Presque Isle Convention Center, while others watched a live broadcast online.
All four candidates criticized Congress and said they want to help put the country back on track by reducing spending, cutting waste, repealing the Affordable Care Act and confirming federal judges who respect the Constitution.
“What we have right now is a compliant Congress and a president who is trying to spend us into oblivion,” said Summers.
Summers, a Naval Reserve commander who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, said all spending should be re-examined, including wasteful military contracts.
Summers said more domestic energy production is needed to reduce fuel prices, create jobs and enhance national security.
And he said federal judges, and Supreme Court justices, should follow the Constitution strictly.
“The Constitution, I believe, is divinely inspired … It is not a living document,” Summers said. “It was written to afford all of us the opportunity to succeed, not to guarantee us anything.”
Summers told the audience that he has the endorsement of the all eight Republican legislators from Aroostook County.
Schneider said he would fight overspending and waste in Washington, just as his office has stepped up prosecutions for welfare fraud in Maine.
“I would take that exact same attitude to the Senate. I would make sure that fraud, waste and abuse is hunted down and ferreted out at every opportunity,” he said.
Schneider, a former Army officer who lost the use of his legs in an accident while in the service, said he is a leader who can bring people together. But he said he doesn’t believe that Republicans should look to nominate a moderate to replace Snowe.
“I think that a good solid conservative is exactly who we need to run for Senate for Maine,” he said. “And I think I am that conservative person.”
Schneider said he is guided by the Constitution and has kept a copy with him 24 hours a day for 20 years.
“The Constitution, at its very heart, recognizes that all of the power in the United States rests with the people,” he said.
Bennett, who heads a Maine company that advises global investors, said he decided to get back into politics because he is concerned about the debt.
“I am worried about the total lack of leadership that has exhibited itself in the United States Congress and particularly in the United States Senate,” he said.
Bennett said he would focus on reining in spending and reducing the nation’s debt. “In my view, everything is going to be on the table.”
Bennett said he brought legislators from both parties together when he served in the state Senate. He was Senate president when Angus King was governor, and said he could defeat King in the fall.
“I think this is really on all of our minds,” Bennett said of King’s independent candidacy. “Some people have already anointed him…. I have tussled over serious budget issues with Angus King. I’ve argued against his policies in the floor of the Senate.”
D’Amboise, a businessman, reminded the audience that he was the only candidate who dared to run when Olympia Snowe was still seeking re-election. The other five entered the race after Snowe announced her retirement in February.
He also set himself apart by saying he would abolish the Internal Revenue Service and the Federal Reserve and cut off foreign aid. He said he believes that life begins at the moment of conception.
“I am a conservative, I am a constitutionalist and I am a Christian,” he said.
D’Amboise held up his copy of the Constitution, saying he would have opposed the Supreme Court justices who were nominated by President Obama.
“Our judges – most of them don’t know what’s in this book,” he said.
D’Amboise said he would be a strong supporter of the right to bear arms.
“If we lose the Second Amendment, the government’s going to take all the other amendments away from us,” he said. “Our freedoms and our liberties are at stake…. Make no mistake, they want to grab the guns.”
The Republican candidate forums are being moderated by former Republican state Sen. Phil Harriman. The second forum in the series will be April 13 at the Augusta Elks Lodge. All six candidates are expected to attend.
Plowman issued a statement Thursday saying she intends to participate in the forums but did not want to leave the Senate during the session Thursday.
Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at: