AUGUSTA — Several Democrats running for governor agreed Thursday that Maine should have better health care, a better economy, more broadband internet service and better opportunities for all Mainers.

Six of the eight declared Democrats – Mark Eves, Adam Cote, James Boyle, Janet Mills, Betsy Sweet and Diane Russell – appeared at a candidates forum in Augusta. Patrick Eisenhardt and J. Martin Vachon were unable to attend.

Mills, who has clashed publicly with LePage on several issues, said she grew up taking on bullies and, as Maine’s attorney general, has taken on the biggest bully the state has ever seen: LePage.

“I took on the special interests and corporate interests and won. I took on the pharmaceutical companies and won, and I’m still winning,” Mills said. “I’m about getting things done.”

Eves, 40, a family therapist from North Berwick who spent eight years as a state representative and four as House speaker, said any of the Democrats would be a vast improvement over LePage. People in Maine need help, and when people are in trouble, “you do not give up on them,” he said.

Cote has never held elected office but is a combat veteran of the Maine National Guard. The Sanford attorney, 44, was recognized by President Barack Obama for his work on climate change.

“We should have the best public schools, we should be able to provide health care to everybody in Maine, and we need the best broadband,” he said. “We need to find a way to grow our economy in the rural areas and the mill towns, and we need a new generation of leaders.”

Throughout the forum, the candidates took similar positions on clean energy, state government, health care and the opioid crisis and growing Maine’s population.

The final question was about whom the candidates would support if they didn’t win, and they all agreed that no matter what, a Democrat must be elected governor in 2018. Sweet – celebrating her 61st birthday – joked that she was happy that everybody in the audience got a chance to meet her Cabinet.

Boyle said everyone at the event favors clean energy, and Mills said it’s important to wean ourselves off fossil fuels and increase use of electric vehicles. Eves said clean energy, especially solar and wind power, presents an opportunity for the state “ripe for picking.”

Mills said LePage hasn’t created a work-friendly environment for state workers, and one thing she proposed would be a child-care facility at the State House. On health care, all agreed that the costs of insurance and prescription drugs are too high. Russell, Sweet and Eves said they support a Medicare-for-All – or single payer – health care system like the one proposed recently by Vermont senator Bernie Sanders. Eves and Boyle want to use funding from Medicaid expansion – a referendum question in November that all the candidates said they support – to help fight the opioid epidemic.

Keeping people in Maine and attracting new people was also important to the candidates. Providing high-paying jobs, and not just in southern Maine, improving the infrastructure and education system and broadband are ideas the candidates said would help grow the state’s workforce.

Sweet, a lobbyist and advocate from Hallowell, said a way to entice people to stay in Maine is allowing high school students the opportunity to provide one year of community service after high school in exchange for free tuition at any four-year college or university in Maine. If the person chooses to remain in the state, his or her education stays free; and if the person leaves, it becomes a zero-interest loan.

Russell, a public relations consultant from Portland, served eight years in the Maine House until 2016. She grew up in a working-class family in western Maine and said you don’t have to be rich to make a difference.

“The system is rigged against us, and we no longer have a voice,” she said. “Most of us have been forgotten by the upper echelon, and the system was intentionally broken.”

Boyle, an environmental consultant and former state senator from Gorham, said it’s important to rebuild and restore the rural economy of Maine.

“I think the system in Augusta is rigged, and it’s rigged against the working people of Maine,” he said.

On the Republican side, Rep. Kenneth Fredette, of Newport; Garrett Mason, a state senator from Lisbon; and Mary Mayhew, the former commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services, are vying for their party’s nomination. U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said on a radio show Wednesday that she would decide soon whether she’ll run.

Two candidates are fighting for a spot on the ballot representing the Green Party: former banker Jay Dresser, of Bangor; and Betsy Marsano, a retiree and former Family Crisis Center employee from Waldo.

Terry Hayes, the Maine state treasurer, is running as an independent; and Richard Light, a social worker from Lewiston, is running as a Libertarian.

Jason Pafundi can be contacted at 621-5663 or at:

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