Libby Mitchell took every opportunity on the campaign trail Friday to emphasize the connection between education and economic development, and her long-term support for both as a Maine legislator.

It’s a defensive tack for the Democratic candidate for governor, whose opponents have criticized her alliance with teachers’ unions and blamed state regulations for stifling businesses in Maine.

From breakfast at Becky’s Diner in Portland to lunch with the Scarborough Kiwanis Club, the president of the Maine Senate touted her past efforts and future plans in both arenas.

“I want to help create jobs of the future,” Mitchell told Kiwanians at the Dunstan School Restaurant.

Mitchell said she would support more and better educational opportunities for all students and promote innovation and job creation in industries ranging from biotechnology to renewable energy.

“We have to end our dependence on fossil fuels,” she said.

She would continue her efforts to reduce the state income tax, she said, and create a statewide exchange to help small businesses, municipalities and school districts buy low-cost health insurance for their employees.

She would promote tax breaks for major employers that expand and create more jobs, as she did for Bath Iron Works, and continue to support tax incentives for new ventures in Pine Tree Zones.

At the same time, Mitchell said, she would take steps to sustain traditional industries in farming, forestry and fishing.

Mitchell drew applause at a “groundbreaking” ceremony Friday morning for a $4.8 million deep-water pier on the Portland waterfront that’s expected to double the city’s capacity for cruise ship visits. Gov. John Baldacci and others credited Mitchell with successfully negotiating the bond issue that funded the project.

At Wright Express in South Portland, Mitchell met with about a dozen people representing the University of Southern Maine and its corporate partners.

She explained her plan to establish an advisory council of socially responsible business owners, educational leaders and others to help align state policies, educational goals and community needs.

“We have to address our workforce needs, including high school students coming out who aren’t as prepared as they need to be,” said Mitchell, who concluded her day at the Maine State Employees Association’s annual meeting at the Samoset Resort in Rockport.

To increase graduation rates, Mitchell said, she would promote universal pre-kindergarten in public schools, support dropout prevention programs in all grades and continue her efforts on behalf of the state’s university and community college systems.

Mitchell acknowledged that all of her proposals will be difficult to accomplish because the next governor will face a possible $1 billion revenue shortfall.

However, she noted that she’s the only candidate in the governor’s race who has experience producing five balanced state budgets.

“I know it’s tough, but I do know there are good things happening,” Mitchell told the Scarborough Kiwanians.

“I want change, but I want good change.”

 

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at: [email protected]