Four local candidates for state office stated their positions on key election issues when the Castine Women’s Club hosted a political “tea” on Tuesday, September 4, at the Wilson Museum meeting house. House District 37 candidates Ralph Chapman (D-Brooksville) and Sherman Hutchins (R-Penobscot) and Senate District 31 candidates Emery Deabay (D-Bucksport) and Edward Youngblood (R-Brewer) introduced themselves to the audience and answered questions on the current economy, the state pension fund, the proposed east-west corridor and renewable energy initiatives.
Around 25 citizens attended the event, moderated by Castine resident Robin Mass.
“I thought tea and politics were a good mix,” event coordinator Jeannie Reed said in her introduction.
While the audience questions—submitted in written form beforehand and answered in a traditional debate format with set time limits for each candidate—were serious, the informal atmosphere was all small-town.
“We’re really a family. That’s the nice thing about Maine politics,” said Chapman, who currently holds the House seat for District 37, in his opening remarks.
House District 37 includes the towns of Blue Hill, Brooksville, Castine, Penobscot, Sedgwick and Surry. His original opponent, Gay Leach (R-Castine), withdrew from the race in July for health reasons, and Sherman Hutchins was nominated by a Republican Caucus to replace her in the November general election.
Hutchins, who served a term in the House of Representatives over 20 years ago and has since campaigned for Republican candidates, including Leach, spoke of his “deep roots in the community.”
Youngblood, a state senator from 2001-2004, again seeks a senate seat “because I’ve seen some things happening that really need attention,” he said.
Senate District 31 includes Castine and Penobscot and 19 other towns in Hancock and Penobscot counties. Richard Rosen (R-Bucksport), who has served the district for eight years, is not eligible for reelection because of term limits.
Youngblood’s opponent, Deabay, who is seeking his first elected state office, comes from a strong union background and currently serves as president of the United States Steel Workers Local 1188 and vice president of the Eastern Maine Labor Council. “I started out by going to Augusta and talking to my [state] Reps,” he said. “I found out I liked it.”
The economy—a front campaign issue
Improving the economy “is the thing we need to do [and] we need to do it locally,” Hutchins said.
While all four candidates agreed that increasing employment was the best way to improve the economic climate, their proposed solutions maintained differences along party lines.
Youngblood called for a reduction of “excessive” bureaucracy and regulations as a way to support small businesses. The state budget shortfall, he said, is a “result of poor management of funds,” not of a revenue shortfall.
Deabay, however, said, “When you lose good paying jobs, the state loses revenue,” and losing local jobs to trade deals is the “biggest problem, through no fault of the State House.” Deabay said “smart regulation” is needed in trade and on Wall Street and providing employment to “work within the state [on] roads, bridges, etc.” would help the local economy.
Like Youngblood, Hutchins focused on local businesses. “One of the things that makes our economy flat is that local businesses are not encouraged,” he said, adding that “If we continue on the road of European Socialist style,” an 8-percent unemployment rate will be “the new norm.”
Chapman pointed to his “job creation activity for 10 years.” As a state representative, he brought grant money for job training in energy efficiency weatherization for residential homes, and the weatherization program is “an exact example” of putting people to work, receiving a high rate of return on investment and reducing dependency on foreign oil, he said, calling the inability to get the bond issue past the legislature “a real shame.”
A “Cadillac plan with Chevy payments”?
A question on the “underfunded pension problem” brought party-line differences even more to the forefront, with Republican candidate Hutchins calling the current state pension “a Cadillac plan with Chevy payments.”
Youngblood described the pension fund as “robbing Peter to pay Paul” through “budget gimmicks,” stating “it’s how we make decisions on how we spend money that got us where we are today.”
Democratic candidates Deabay and Chapman see the issue in a different light.
“Thirty-five years of service and a $20,000 pension is not a Cadillac plan,” Deabay said, calling state pension underfunding a result of Wall Street losing money. “You don’t get it back in two or five years,” he said. “I do know, as the economy grows, the unfunded balance grows, and they [have] already seen some of that.”
Chapman said that a “decent projection” of pension funds should be done over 20 to 30 years, calling the approach to future debt a “fundamental ideological difference in the state house.”
East-West corridor: a help or a hurt?
Candidates gave their position on the proposed east-west corridor along economic lines. Chapman called it “hopeful thinking” that commercial development will come with an east-west highway, saying that it hasn’t happened to towns along Interstate 95 and that the same commerce “can be accomplished by the existing east-west railroad” that ran 100 trains a week “at one time.”
Hutchins, in favor “as long as it doesn’t take land by eminent domain,” said an east-west corridor would produce income from Canadian traffic across the state. He disagreed with Chapman regarding the effect of I-95, saying that if there had been no north-south highway, the Lincoln and Millinocket mills “would not be there today.”
“I strongly believe an east-west corridor would not be useful for the people of Maine,” Deabay said. It would be used to transport energy within Canada, detrimentally affect paper mills in Maine, and the issue of eminent domain is not resolved.
“As a citizen, I’m not privy to data to make decisions,” Youngblood said, but he is in favor of a feasibility study, noting that Maine is “one of a very few states that do not have an east-west route.”
Wind power and other renewable energy development
The question of renewable energy, and specifically wind/tidal power, was more easily answered.
“Sounds good, but it’s not going to work,” said Hutchins. “When the wind stops blowing, you don’t have power.”
Chapman, who said he has worked in the wind development and other renewable energy industries, said “It’s not a question, is renewable energy better or worse. It’s necessary. Fossil fuel is finite.”
“Any renewable energy source is wonderful,” agreed Youngblood. “But don’t ask me to subsidize it.” He said consumers are still paying for “stranded costs” of a program for developing wood burning power, and previous wind development programs “couldn’t produce energy at a price people could afford without subsidies.”
Deabay called the question “conflicted,” pointing out that oil companies have received subsidies “in the millions for years and years and no one’s talking about that,” but that it takes 40 windmills to produce the energy of one gas turbine.
Working together “across the aisle”
The four candidates were able to agree on the importance of the final question, on how each would approach bipartisanship “across the aisle.”
To solve a problem, “you depoliticize” the problem, Chapman said, highlighting his bipartisan committee experience in the House. “It’s important to communicate with those with whom we disagree.”
Hutchins said, “we should be bold in what we’re trying to do,” but also be kind.
Deabay pointed to “a lifetime working collaboratively with people” through his elected union positions. “If you keep an open mind and listen, you can solve nearly all problems.”
Youngblood pointed to committee work as the ideal place for bipartisan politics. “It all works from the bottom up,” he said. Things that don’t work are a result of “people not willing to talk.”
Elections will be held on Tuesday, November 6, with absentee ballots available one month prior.