Democratic Gubernatorial Debate Provides Valuable Insight
As Steve Rowe said first and as other candidates later reiterated, “We’re all Democrats here tonight.”
After two hours of Democratic gubernatorial candidates responding to questions exclusively about job creation at Thursday night’s forum hosted by the South Portland Dems, it became clear how many types of Democrats are throwing their hat into the ring for the Blaine House.
Despite taking nine pages of notes, I will not give a hit-for-hit recount of the debate; it is viewable online for those interested. Instead, I will give my personal impressions on how the candidates performed- from the unique viewpoint of an 18-year-old who has been of voting age for less than two months.
All the candidates agreed on some things: Maine’s best days are ahead, alternative energy will play a sizeable role in the future of Maine’s jobs, and pre-K education should be worked into the state’s budget. On other issues, they differed.
On the casino issue, Pat McGowan expressed his concern that Maine lottery revenue may end up in Las Vegas (to which Libby Mitchell looked puzzled) and said that a Maine casino could “never compete with Foxwoods or Mohegan Sun.” Donna Dion and John Richardson came out supportive of using casinos to create jobs, saying that it was part of the “process” and “fabric of an economic development plan,” respectively.
The issue of using nuclear energy as alternative energy also proved a divisive topic among the Democrats. Rowe, Mitchell, and McGowan came out firmly opposed to nuclear energy due to its unrealistic timeline and the variety of cleaner and safer alternatives. Rosa Scarcelli and Dion came out middle of the road, saying that we shouldn’t “put aside” (Dion) any options, but that we also “can’t put all our eggs in one basket” (Scarcelli). Richardson was the most supportive, saying about energy options that we must “put all of it on the table” and that in the end, it’s all about jobs (to which I’d pose the question: what’s more important, jobs or safety?).
Perhaps the round that gave the greatest insight into the type of governance that each candidate would offer- whether reactive or proactive- was the lightning round in which each candidate was given 15 seconds to say what would be the first “specific” thing they’d do to create jobs in their first day in office. Answers aside, the only candidates to offer specifics were Mitchell, Rowe, and Richardson. McGowan, Scarcelli, and Dion provided responses that focused on long-term approaches- not a “specific first thing” as the question asked.
Throughout the debate, I noticed trends in each of the candidates- some more flagrant than others. Rowe, as much as I support him, said a total of four times that he wants to take Maine out of the upper-corner of the map and put it in the center of the world. After having heard this twice at the Portland caucus and then four times at the debate, it has become quite trite. McGowan repeatedly talked about issues on the national scale, and devoted part of his opening remarks to commending the Clinton administration and admonishing the Bush administration. Although I agreed with his comments, I feel they were out-of-place at a forum on job creation in Maine. Richardson, other than being the most moderate-leaning candidate on nearly every issue, repeatedly used the words “golden” and “moral”- which perhaps could be an imagery ploy?
When it comes down to who I felt were the worst and best performers in the debate, the recipients were clear. Unapologetically, the worst debater was Donna Dion. One of only two candidates (Richardson being the other) without enough common courtesy to thank the South Portland Democrats at the end of the forum, she appeared detached and unenthusiastic in most of her responses and left much to be desired. The best debater was Libby Mitchell. Not only are her charm and charisma consistently unsurpassed, but she used her vast number of experiences in the legislature to provide answers of greater depth about casinos and the sales tax than her opponents.
Mitchell also provided the best quote of the night. After listening to the Augusta outsiders Scarcelli and Dion talk about how they would conduct thorough evaluations of state programs within their first year in office to cut wasteful spending, Mitchell recalled a quote from former governor Angus King: “I’ve made many trips to the basement in hopes of finding the man shoveling money into the fire, and he’s not there.”
Absent this trowel-yielding fellow, the next Maine governor must plan proactively, support creative solutions to budget shortfalls, and dedicate him or herself to making sure the law treats all Mainers equally. And for those reasons, I will be voting for Steve Rowe in the June primary, and a Democrat in the November election.