February 26, 2010

Gubernatorial hopefuls begin debate

DENNIS HOEY

— By

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Photo by Derek Davis: Debate with gubernatorial candidates at the Windham Hotel in South Portland. Photographed on Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2010.

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Photo by Derek Davis: Steve Abbott, left, speaks during a debate with gubernatorial candidates at the Windham Hotel in South Portland. Photographed on Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2010.

Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND — Matt Marks said the timing for the first gubernatorial debate of 2010 was perfect.

With most of Maine recovering from a snowstorm and the election still nearly 10 months away, what better time to ask what a candidate would do to reduce the construction industry's 20 percent unemployment rate, Marks said.

Though none of the candidates who participated in Wednesday's forum directly addressed the issue, Marks, chief operations officer for the Associated General Contractors of Maine, said they will have to eventually, as the race heats up.

''Governors and government create choices,'' offered Eliot Cutler, an independent candidate from Cape Elizabeth. ''We are not going to create jobs. A governor will create conditions in which businesses can thrive and prosper.''

Thirteen candidates, out of more than 20 who have announced, accepted invitations to the debate at the Wyndham Hotel in South Portland.

The forum was hosted by the Associated General Contractors as part of the organization's annual meeting.

It's still too early in the campaign for a front-runner to emerge, but as Republican candidate Leslie B. Otten pointed out, ''We are here today because it's the biggest job interview of our life.''

The forum gave the candidates a few minutes to introduce their platforms and be subjected to a ''lightning round,'' in which the moderators -- former state Sens. Ethan Strimling and Phil Harriman -- gave each candidate seconds to give a yes-or-no answer to a question.

''The lightning rounds have been fun, but I will not be a lightning-round governor,'' said Elizabeth Mitchell, the state's Senate president and a Democratic candidate.

All 13 candidates said they would not support a national park in the northern woods of Maine.

Republicans Steve Abbott, Matthew Jacobson and Otten, and Democrats John Richardson and Mitchell all said they would support a casino.

Republicans Paul LePage, Bill Beardsley and Jacobson said they would support development of a nuclear power plant.

When asked about increasing the governor's salary from $70,000 a year, Republican state Sen. Peter Mills said he would not support an increase while Abbott said he would.

Some questions were crafted to reveal a little bit about each candidate's personal life.

For example, candidates were asked whether they bagged a deer or caught a fish last year.

Democrat Rosa Scarcelli said she did neither. Jacobson and Democrat Steve Rowe, the state's former attorney general, said they caught fish; Abbott said he caught fish and shot wild turkeys.

Each candidate got a chance to make closing remarks. A few, like LePage, Waterville's mayor, used the opportunity to take a poke at opponents.

''The state needs to go on a diet. It needs to stop spending and get rid of regulations that are unnecessary,'' said LePage, who manages the Marden's chain of retail stores.

Republican Bruce L. Poliquin of Georgetown said the next governor needs to be a ''competent manager,'' not a politician.

''Some of the people at this table have created the Maine we have now if Maine is so great, then why are so many young people fleeing the state?'' asked Poliquin, who grew up in Waterville.

Otten made a promise. ''I will not raise taxes as your governor,'' he said.

Scarcelli vowed to make a difference if elected. A Bowdoin College graduate and business owner, she said, ''I'm a businesswoman and a pro-jobs Democrat.''

Former state Conservation Commissioner Patrick McGowan, who recently announced his candidacy, also participated in the forum.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

dhoey@pressherald.com

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