It has been called the most important senate election in the country, with the winner having to fill the shoes of soon-to-be former U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, who is known for her bipartisanship.
Independent candidate Angus King and Democratic candidate and Maine senator Cynthia Dill are vying for this senatorial position, hoping to fix what they think is broken, and spoke to The Maine Campus on their behalf.
The Maine Campus also reached out to Republican candidate Charlie Summers, Maine’s secretary of state, but numerous emails and phone calls to his representatives went unreturned.
Dill and King have very different histories in politics in Maine. Dill is a relatively fresh face while King, the former Maine governor, is well known throughout the state. Each candidate discussed issues with higher education, including the price of college, issues with federal loans and the dearth of jobs upon graduation.
“The underlying problem is the cost itself,” King said about the price of secondary education. “Something’s happened to decouple higher education costs from the rest of the economy, and I think that’s a place where institutions have to ask themselves, ‘Why is that?’”
Both Dill and King believe that more transparency and more funding are needed for colleges and universities.
“In terms of the university, higher education is something we have to invest in,” Dill said. “I’m certainly a believer in reforms where they’re necessary for evaluations but it comes down to funding, accountability and transparency. That’s the cornerstone of my campaign: the growing income disparity — this top-heavy plutocracy that’s running the economy.”
Both candidates are in favor of legislation to help ease the troubles of college loans on recent graduates, yet neither is ready to forgive student loan debt entirely.
“In the past there has been selective forgiveness programs if, for example, we needed people in the STEM — science, technology, engineering and math. Why not have provisions where there are abilities to forgive loans if people go into the fields where we need them,” King said.
“I support legislation that would enable students who take jobs that don’t necessarily pay a lot to participate in programs that [would] allow them to pay a percentage of their student debt in proportion to their income,” Dill said. “It doesn’t force students to take a job they wouldn’t want to do, whether it’s out of state, only for purposes to pay back their loans.”
Dill, who teaches at Southern Maine Community College, notices a number of students coming from high school completely unprepared for college and is in favor of seeing more education about college for high school kids.
“I support continued funding for community colleges, but what I’ve noticed is that there’s such a disparity in the aptitude of students who arrive. I think we need to have some reform in the [kindergarten] through 12th grade and make students more ready for college,” Dill said.
King agrees, saying that the lack of preparedness for students entering college puts them in a tough position once they start taking out thousands of dollars in loans.
“I think there should be more information and better information available for students when they start to think about financing college,” King said. “My sense is that a lot of people take on a lot of debt and don’t really realize what they’re getting into and what it means when they get out of school.”
King is in favor of a student loan reform with the idea that schools with high graduation rates should determine what they receive for loan help.
“[We should] have some provisions look at graduation rates from institutions,” he said. “There would be some higher standard for the loans or more scrutiny if an institution is one with a low graduation rate. I think there’s something to that.”
As for the workforce in Maine, both candidates are searching for ways to increase the number of jobs and get businesses to grow in Maine.
“I think we need to do everything we can to support jobs and in my view supporting jobs in the big picture include tax reform, reduce unnecessary spending, and investing in infrastructure projects and education,” Dill said.
During his governorship, one of King’s largest decisions was his laptop initiative, which provided Apple laptops to every seventh and eighth grader in the state. His decision to do this, according to King, was to expand the children’s productivity and hopefully market some companies to Maine.
“The laptop project partially grew out of my experience. It didn’t come until toward the end of my term and grew out of my experience I had because I used to talk to businesses all the time about coming to Maine,” King said. “What I learned was, the No. 1 issue on the mind of a new business that wants to locate in Maine is ‘can you supply an educated and qualified workforce?’ The laptop project was in effect an economic development project. We wanted to give our kids a leg up on what they had access to and skills in technology.”
When asked if the laptop project benefits the state if the students take the skills they learned and leave Maine for a job, King brought up the fact that even if a college graduate leaves the state for another job, there’s a chance they may come back to Maine in the future.
“The real question is where will you end up? Leaving Maine at the age of 23 isn’t necessarily the end of the world. A lot of people come back to Maine,” King said.
Dill has also tried to extend technology to all parts of Maine, acting as a leading proponent to the Three Ring Binder project, which brings high-speed internet to rural areas.
Both King and Dill know the importance of this position, yet neither is worried about repeating an election that plagued democrats and independents in 2010, when Democrat Libby Mitchell and independent Eliot Cutler split votes, which led to Republican Paul LePage obtaining the gubernatorial position.
“I think people have a short memory in Maine. Angus King himself won a three-way race, and in 1974 there was a three-way race for Governor when all the newspapers were predicting George Mitchell and Jim Longley came out of nowhere,” Dill said. “The outcome isn’t a given. This whole narrative that gets recycled over and over again about redoing 2010, people need to snap out of it. We wouldn’t have Paul LePage if people who truly thought Libby Mitchell was the best candidate stuck with it instead of at the last minute trying to game the system. People have to vote their values and support the candidate that best reflects them.”
While Dill made it known that she was running for this position before Snowe’s announced retirement, King entered the race upon the former senator’s departure.
“[Snowe] left because she said the senate doesn’t work,” King said. “She couldn’t get anything done. She was totally frustrated. I’m doing it because of what she said, because I think we need to do it a different way and I’m an independent. I’m in a unique position in this country — being a two-term independent governor — to be a credible candidate for the senate because I believe partisanship itself is a huge part of what is keeping our nation from solving its problems. It’s become a barrier — they can’t get anything done.
“If Olympia Snowe had said, ‘I’m leaving because I’m tired’ or ‘I’m ready to retire,’ I would have had no interest and no intention in running,” King continued. “I thought I could fill the void.”
Dill disagreed, stating she entered the race because Republicans — Snowe included — weren’t representing the beliefs of the nation.
“I got into this race because the Republican party and unfortunately even Olympia Snowe herself were moving a little far to the right and that there needed to be a healthy debate on what I consider to be core values,” Dill said. “I got into the race just to elevate the discussion. I will always put the priorities of Maine people over any party.”