SKOWHEGAN — Without doing much to distinguish themselves from each other, four of the five Republican candidates for governor presented their case to voters Saturday night for why they deserve to be elected to the Blaine House in November.

At the Lincoln Day Gubernatorial Dinner, hosted by the Somerset County Republican Committee of Maine, the four candidates in attendance all promoted themselves as anti-abortion and pro-gun-ownership Republicans with a vision to move Maine forward. The candidates were state Rep. Ken Fredette, former commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services Mary Mayhew, businessman Shawn Moody and state Sen. Mike Thibodeau. The fifth Republican candidate, state Sen. Garrett Mason, did not attend.

The dinner at the T&B Celebration Center also featured state Sen. Eric Brakey, a Republican who is challenging U.S. Sen. Angus King, an independent, for his seat this year. Brakey, who likely faces an uphill challenge against the very popular King, criticized Washington, D.C., as being a district of rich elitists who “steal from the rest of us.”

Brakey, who was elected to the state Senate at age 26 when he defeated a Democratic incumbent, said he came into politics during the tea party wave. The tea party is a national conservative movement that first emerged in 2009 and is loosely associated with the Republican Party.

King “has a nice mustache, he rides a motorcycle, he got us a lobster emoji,” said Brakey, noting that if he was a U.S. senator he would “protect the Constitution.”

As for the candidates vying for the Blaine House, they were asked a series of seven questions. In addition to labeling themselves as anti-abortion and in favor of the Second Amendment, each of the four called for changes to “right to work” laws, which generally prohibit compelling workers at unionized companies to join the union and pay dues as a condition of employment.

Moody, who emphasized his background as a small-business founder, said it’s critical to bring blue-collar jobs back to Maine and that teenagers who want to work are “brought down by the economy.” He said laws now prohibit teenagers from doing much at all at a business like his – Moody’s Collision Center – which “won’t let them do what I did to lift myself from poverty to prosperity.”

Mayhew, touting her experience with DHHS, said that despite having a staff of 3,600 in the department, she only had the capacity to hire or fire 23 employees when she worked there. The rest were all protected by a union contract or public service law, Mayhew said. She said not having the ability to fire a non-performing employee who was protected by a union hurt other hard-working employees.

Thibodeau said that not having a right-to-work law in Maine is a drag on the economy, and that not letting younger people enter the workforce is a drain on their learning opportunities. Fredette also said the state needs to get its teenagers working, and that the raising of the minimum wage to $10 per hour was a detriment to the rural parts of the state.

“The reality is, if you’re down in York (County) or Cumberland County, do you think they’re worried about a $10 minimum wage?” Fredette asked. “Up here in rural Maine, it’s a real issue. If you’re running that little country store, it’s a big deal and it’s putting people out of business.”

When asked how they plan to bring businesses to Maine, the candidates largely cited bureaucratic hurdles that they see keeping businesses out of the state. Thibodeau said he would be a governor who goes out and sells Maine as a pro-business state to the corporate world.

“We can do tremendous things,” he said.

Fredette said the state, especially the Second District and its rural areas, needs to embrace apprenticeship programs. He listed Bath Iron Works and Cianbro as examples of companies already doing that.

Mayhew said the “liberal socialists” in Augusta often stand in the way of business development by not respecting existing businesses. She said the state needs to let businesses know that hard work is valued, and that the state shouldn’t “pay people to sit on a couch and not work.”

“To attract businesses to our state, we have to respect those here today,” she said.

Moody talked about his experience with bureaucracy as a business owner. When he first went for a building permit to build his business, he said, it was a one-time cost of $35. Today, he said that before he could even file for a permit he’d have to pay for a $1,400 Department of Environmental Protection Agency order.

“Bureaucracy is crushing us,” Moody said.

All the candidates but Moody said they would support whoever is the Republican nominee for governor. Moody didn’t answer the question specifically, but said the goal is to sweep the House, Senate and Blaine House for Republicans.

Colin Ellis can be contacted at 861-9253 or at:

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Twitter: @colinellis