AUGUSTA – They came from Cape Elizabeth, Warren, Brunswick, Portland, Augusta and other places across Maine.

They were men and women, liberal and conservative. Some said they wouldn’t mind a tax increase if they knew the money would be well spent. Others said they wanted government to ease regulations, especially those that apply to small businesses.

Despite their differences, 89 percent of those gathered at the University of Maine at Augusta — and those at 18 other sites across the country — said they were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with the tone of political discourse in the nation.

And they were all concerned about the national debt, now pegged at $13 trillion.

“I’m a federal government malcontent,” said Randy Mayo of Augusta. “If I had my say, we would get the politicians out of the lobbyists’ pockets. There’s so much bias.”

The National Town Meeting sponsored by AmericaSpeaks drew thousands of people to 19 sites across the country, which were linked by a video feed. Just over 70 people in Augusta were joined by those in New Mexico, Illinois, Oregon, California, Pennsylvania and other places.

AmericaSpeaks is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that works to give the people a greater voice on important national issues. The budget and economy session Saturday was paid for by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Maine-based sponsors included Gorham Savings Bank, the Maine Community Foundation and the College of the Atlantic.

For more than six hours, those who signed up sat and talked about the nation’s federal budget and debt. Their thoughts were immediately logged onto computers and shared with those in the rest of the country.

Local organizer Candy Wells, program coordinator of UMA’s Office of Professional Development, said she hoped participants would see that their opinions can make a difference.

“I hope they take away a renewed interest and excitement about the ability to make change,” she said.

Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, sent a staffer to observe the town hall meeting. In a statement, she encouraged the group to stay involved.

“We are living at a time when 40 cents out of every dollar spent by the federal government is borrowed and the government is spending 67 percent more than it’s taking in,” she wrote.

Cynthia Cochran of Portland said she’s “concerned with decisions being made and not being made” by the federal government.

“I would shift from our warfare aggression across the planet and stop spending money on resources that get destroyed and start spending money on infrastructure and education,” she said.

MaineToday Media State House Reporter Susan Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at:

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