By Alex Kennedy and Zachary Guiod
This past Wednesday, the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce hosted a gubernatorial debate with the four candidates who are vying for the Maine governorship: Alan Caron (I), Terry Hayes (I), Janet Mills (D), and Shawn Moody (R). Before the debate even started, the Chamber’s spokesperson voiced support for referendum questions 4 and 5, and stated that the Chamber encourages people to vote no against Question 1.
As the candidates took the stage, they all shook each other’s hands and were very civil, and it set the tone for the debate. While each candidate stated their strongest qualities to set themselves apart from their opponents, none of them took any shots at each other. This was quite refreshing considering the current state of our national politics.
The first topic of the debate was education. Mr. Moody was questioned about his statement of schools being “overfunded.” Moody welcomed the opportunity to address this controversy. He says the attack ad against him cut his full statement short and that he does believe more money is needed in the classroom. Moody hopes to achieve this by cutting administrators and bureaucracy as well as evaluating ways to make our schools operate efficiently.
Mr. Caron, when asked about his plan for education, started by stating that teachers are heroes. He went on to say more money in the classroom is what is needed. Caron believes the state government should shrink around issues of education, providing their resources to the local and regional government level.
Caron went on to lay out his plan for two years of free college education for Maine students. This would be accomplished in the form of 10-year, no-interest student loans. For every year the graduate remains in Maine they will have no loan payment and 10 percent of the loan is forgiven.
Janet Mills had several proposals to help improve education if she is elected governor. She supports a universal pre-K program so that all children in Maine can get a good start. While the question was focused on K-12 education, Mills also talked about her plans to help college students. She wants to implement a loan forgiveness program and expand the Maine state grant.
Terry Hayes was the only candidate to talk about the low pay that our teachers receive for their hard work, saying that she would raise the starting pay for new teachers in Maine. This way the people who are educating our young people don’t have to rely on public assistance to get by.
Next, candidates were asked about their plans for workforce development in Maine and to comment on how they would support our growing immigrant workforce.
Moody highlighted his business expertise, noting that his business has been doing workforce development and that he understands this better than the other candidates. Moody said we need to support programs like Jobs for Maine Graduates and teach fiscal literacy and public speaking, as well as reform our vocational tech schools to be the best in the country.
He did not address the second part of the question and was awarded an additional 15 seconds to do so. Moody said he would support the growing immigrant workforce by cutting the bureaucracy around labor laws so our new Mainers can gain employment sooner.
Caron believes we have two main problems when it comes to workforce development: We have a lot of highly skilled jobs we can’t fill and not enough jobs for the skills we have. Caron stated, “We took the practicality out of public education.” He believes we need to look forward and solve those problems.
Caron also forgot to answer the second part of the question and, like Moody, he was given an additional 15 seconds to respond. In regards to immigration and workforce development, Caron told the story of his relatives immigrating from Canada and remarked upon how quickly we forget the treatment of those immigrants. Caron believes we should be doing whatever we can to promote workforce development in our immigrant population.
Hayes started off by asking the crowd if anyone had ever been to a naturalization ceremony. This stood out because both Moody and Caron had forgotten to address how they would support our growing immigrant workforce. Ms. Hayes went on to say that she would attend every naturalization ceremony to congratulate the new citizens.
Ms. Mills said that we need to match our education with the workforce needs that we are facing today. She voiced support for a robust English second-language program that will help new immigrants join our workforce much quicker. Mills noted that 40 percent of new immigrants come here with a bachelor’s degree or higher; this highlights the important role they will play and are playing in workforce development.
On the topic of economic growth, Hayes talked about the need to fill jobs in Maine: “We’re running a surplus in state government. Imagine if all those jobs were filled.” She brought up tourism, which is Maine’s best industry, and said that we have to look at why it is doing so well and try to replicate the results in other industries. Then she said that if we can convince less than one percent of the almost 37 million tourists to stay in Maine, it will increase economic growth.
Moody spoke about his travels to rural Maine and said that the people of this state are resilient and want to work. He discussed changing labor laws to allow teens to work more freely. He believes that the key to economic growth lies in training and education, and pointed to his time served on the Board of Trustees for both the University of Maine System and Maine Community College System.
Mills said she doesn’t like to talk about “two Maines” and wants to recruit more businesses to rural Maine. She will advertise the famous Mainer work ethic to help do so. Renewable energy sources such as solar, offshore, and other forms of renewable energy will create jobs and in turn create economic growth. She also made a point to say is she is elected governor, she will not sit on bonds that will create jobs.
Caron said we need to rethink growth. He believes we invest too much time and money in “attraction” and that we need to grow the jobs and industries we already have here in Maine first. Caron said Maine could be the “incubator for small startups.” Caron also said we shouldn’t give big businesses tax cuts hoping they will create jobs, but reward them after the new jobs are created.
The Opioid Epidemic
When the candidates were asked their plan for combating the opioid epidemic, Moody noted the great recovery centers popping up around the state, and said we need to organize them to create a data-driven matrix. This would make it easy for these treatment centers to share practices and see what’s working. Moody believes we can support recovering addicts by supporting sober houses. He finished by saying we need to do what we can to keep those who are struggling stable, sober, and employed.
Janet Mills is our attorney general, and she talked about her experience tackling the opioid epidemic as Maine’s top law official. She brought up how she distributed the drug Narcan, which is used to save the lives of people who overdose, to police departments across the state, and how this saved 523 lives. Mills also said the stigmatizing of substance abuse needs to stop so more people will seek help: “A person wants help, they get help.”
Caron shared his story of personal loss due to a family member’s struggle with addiction. He believes we are not giving enough money to support recovery and that Maine’s gridlock on this issue is due to partisanship: “Two major parties are stuck in old ideas and are more intent on stopping the other than getting things done.” Caron stated that both sides can get their way; we can invest in enforcement and support services at the same time.
Hayes said that addiction is a brain disease and should be treated as such and that we have to make treatment available on demand. She also used this issue to discuss how partisan politics is stopping us from finding a common solution to the problem, not only in Maine but the whole country. “Politics is about keeping score instead of focusing on the problem.”
The last question was about building better infrastructure in Maine.
Mills encouraged the people in attendance to vote for Question 3 on the ballot; if passed, $106 million in bonds for transportation infrastructure will be available. She mentioned that we need to invest in infrastructure to keep our young people here. She told a story about her grandson, saying that he is going to leave the state because his phone calls keep on disconnecting anytime he takes a trip on the highway.
Moody said we need to spend our money smarter and put more energy into seeking ways of lowering costs. He brought up the recession and noted that Maine prospered during this time because we lifted regulations and made permitting easier.
Hayes talked about the need to bring broadband wireless to the entire state so that our people and business can be connected to the infrastructure of the 21st century.
Caron stated that we haven’t done nearly enough in infrastructure development and that the current generation is living off past investments. He marked the need for high speed broadband and updated construction of highways and bridges. Caron again pointed to partisanship as having a negative effect on this issue.
The debate ended as it began, with handshakes and civility that is missed on the national stage. No personal attacks or quick jabs: The candidates said what each of them believe and hoped that it would resonate with the voters. A teacher who was sitting at same table as me made a comment that I thought most of those in attendance would agree with. She said that after the election is over the candidates should get together and share ideas, because they all had some good plans. This is one of the things unique about Maine politics: Most people could care less about what party you belong to. It’s the ideas that matter.