Eight candidates running for the United States Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, spoke about key issues in the race at a forum Wednesday night at the University of Maine.
Discussion focused on issues at the forefront of students’ concerns, such as the job market, education reform and health care.
Primary candidates Democrat Cynthia Dill, Independent Andrew Ian Dodge, Democrat Matt Dunlap, Democrat Jon Hinck, Democrat Ben Pollard, Republican Bill Schneider, Republican Charlie Summers and Independent Steve Woods attended the forum hosted by the University of Maine Democrats; College Republicans; and No Labels, a nonpartisan student political group.
These candidates hope to fill Snowe’s vacant seat after the longtime senator dropped out of the race, citing vitriolic partisanship in Washington as the major factor in her decision.
Woods echoed Snowe’s sentiment by saying he sees a distinctive and insurmountable divide between liberal and conservative politicians.
“I don’t see an aisle,” he said.
While some names may be lesser-known, not all of the hopefuls are new to politics.
Dunlap served as Maine’s 47th Secretary of State in the Baldacci adminstration, Schneider is the state attorney general and Summers serves as Maine’s secretary of state. Hinck is a state representative for part of Portland, and Dill is a state senator for Cape Elizabeth, Portland and part of Scarborough.
The three mediators compiled a list of questions from students, and each candidate was awarded one minute to respond. Question topics ranged from domestic issues, such as the economy and the job market, to the war in Afghanistan.
Students expressed the most interest in the candidate’s stances on education cost reform.
“I think investing in education is one thing that plays a valuable role for government, because people who are educated citizens benefit the entire nation,” Pollard said.
Many candidates found common ground on President Barack Obama’s proposal to keep the interest rate on Stafford Loans from rising, an issue that hits home at UMaine in the wake of an announcement that the interest rate on subsidized Stafford Loans was set to double on July 1.
Dill would further Obama’s effort by “giving credit when students take up jobs that serve in the public industry.”
Summers acknowledged the student debt crisis but placed the responsibility for the cost of education on students.
“I do believe though that students as well as consumers have a responsibility and if they take out loans they have the responsibility to pay those loans back,” he said, adding that he is a firm supporter of the community college system, of which is a graduate.
“Here in the state today, we need to take up every opportunity we can to broaden the opportunities for young people — not just students interested in a four year university,” he said. “Not every student wants to attend a four-year university.”
Students also focused their questions on the uncertain job market.
“I think the most important way we can create jobs is get government out of the way as much as we can,” Schneider said. “Government doest actually create jobs. Government creates the environment that allows jobs to grow.”
Hinck took a different stance from Schneider’s, saying the private sector is the “great engine” of our economy. He conceded that government plays an important role by providing infrastructure for jobs to be created by private enterprise.
According to Dill, job security is greatly enhanced by unionization.
“I support unions,” she said. “They create and bolster the middle class.”
After finally ending the war in Iraq, the attention has now turned toward the war in Afghanistan. Woods was the only candidate to firmly admit his desires to pull out of the war.
“[The US] should aggressively do everything we can to pull troops out of Afghanistan,” Woods said.
Dodge, an independent and self-acclaimed libertarian, said the US needs to “stop meddling in the Middle East.”
“We can not afford it,” he said.
Summers, who served active duty in Afghanistan, discounted Dodge’s urging to pull out of foreign nations.
“The US has responsibility in the world,” Summers said. “It is the world’s last superpower, and I believe that we need to help those nations that can not help themselves.”
Another big topic on the agenda was health care reform legislation. Schneider called the legislation “unconstitutional.” While candidates’ stances on health care reform differed, all admitted that some degree of change was necessary.
“I don’t think it’s perfect,” Hinck said. “It was a compromise. It was our president trying to be reasonable.”
The primary election will be held on June 12.