May 21, 2012

State House Notebook: How can a Democrat beat former Gov. Angus King?

SOUTH PORTLAND - The four Democrats running for Maine's open U.S. Senate seat gathered at a Portland Regional Chamber meeting recently to talk about small business, health care, taxes and energy.

OPEN SEASON

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But first, they had to confront the inevitable question: "How are you going to beat Angus King?"

"I asked for questions from the audience and it was the question I got from everybody," moderator Chris Hall said apologetically.

The former governor and independent Senate candidate has been a recurring topic at Democratic and Republican gatherings. And the Democratic candidates showed Tuesday there are various ideas about how best to take on the frontrunner.

1. Go after King's record. State Sen. Cynthia Dill, D-Cape Elizabeth, is in this camp.

Dill said she would compare her record of creating jobs and promoting economic justice with King's veto of a minimum wage increase, opposition to an expansion of family medical leave and policies that weakened labor unions and left the state in a fiscal mess.

"When it comes to a record, I don't believe Gov. King has a record," Dill said.

2. Stay positive. Former Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap made the case for this strategy, saying Maine voters want to hear how he would restore prosperity, not negative attacks against the other guy. Dunlap said he would have run against Sen. Olympia Snowe the same way.

"People were far more interested in their future than they were in her past," he said.

3. Exploit weaknesses. State Rep. Jon Hinck, D-Portland, said King benefits from the frustration with hyper-partisanship in Washington, but he would focus the discussion on the influence of wealthy business interests. (King happens to be a wealthy businessman.)

"The degree to which private wealthy vested interests dominate politics today hasn't been addressed yet," Hinck said. "We need to focus on that."

4. Offer something completely different. Businessman Benjamin Pollard described himself as an unabashed, starry-eyed idealist with no political experience who could inspire new voters. "Bring people into the political process who are not in the process now," he said.

5. Cross your fingers. No one actually proposed this strategy, although Dunlap did point out that King has still not officially entered the race. As an independent, King isn't required to file nomination petitions until June 1.

LAND BOND?

Gov. Paul LePage will be busy this week reviewing the dozens of bills passed by lawmakers at the end of the session, including five bond bills that total more than $95 million.

Supporters of the Land for Maine's Future bond said the $5 million earmarked for that program will help conserve natural resources and create jobs. Five times already, dating back to 1987, voters in Maine have approved spending money on the program.

"The needs for LMF couldn't be more important than they are today," said Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta.

The Sportsman's Alliance of Maine is on board, too, and even asking for more money to be spent. David Trahan, SAM's executive director, said the group wants to ensure access for hunters and fishermen, and preserving important habitat for things such as wild brook trout.

Now that it has passed the Legislature, the big question is whether LePage will come on board.

As a candidate in 2010, LePage said he would not support a Land for Maine's Future bond, at least not the $9.75 million that was on the ballot that year.

(Continued on page 2)

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