On Oct. 14, gubernatorial and State Senate candidates addressed members of College Democrats clubs from the University of Maine, Colby College and Bates College.
The event took place at the Commons building on the Bates campus, starting with an informal networking session, followed by speeches from the candidates. The president of UMaine’s College Democrats, Connor Huck, and political science student Zach Holman, represented Orono’s chapter.
Holman considers Janet Mills to be the frontrunner for the Democrats, but both UMaine club members said that it’s too early to tell. Huck said that the club likely won’t officially endorse a candidate until after their summit in November.
Mark Eves, a former member of the Maine House of Representatives and Speaker of the House, spoke first. Before getting into politics in 2008, Eves was a family therapist. He started out by recognizing the crowded field, stating that there were “many qualified gubernatorial candidates.”
“Yesterday we passed a big hurdle,” Eves said, referring to Senator Susan Collins’ announcement that she will not be running.
He cited his time negotiating a budget with Governor Paul LePage as experience. During these budget meetings, Eves said he saw a lot of opportunity for the next governor including expanding Medicaid, and investing in renewable energy and education.
Eves mentioned his plans for such bonds as Medicaid expansion.
“If I’m fortunate enough to win… the next thing I’m doing is going to the office and releasing those bonds along with all the other bonds the governor has blocked,” Eves said.
Janet Mills, Maine Attorney General, spoke next. Mills was an assistant district attorney and a district attorney before becoming Attorney General. She practiced law from 1995 to 2008 and was in the House of Representatives. Mills has served as Attorney General since 2008.
Mills was not afraid to highlight her political conflict with LePage and President Donald Trump. Mills has refused to represent LePage in lawsuits which she said did not represent Maine’s best interests, and sparred with him over use of funds from settlements.
“These have been the toughest years ever the last four and a half years that I’ve served under Paul LePage. I’ve been fighting the battles in court and out of court and in the public arena,” Mills said.
She brought up her part in the lawsuit against Trump’s rollback of the Clean Power Act, as well as a lawsuit with Maine, California, Missouri and Maryland against the removal of DACA, for which LePage sued her.
“I’ve won every battle I’ve fought with him [LePage],” Mills said, “and I aim to continue to win those battles.”
Mills cited her opposition against the repeal of same day voter registration as proof of her commitment to voter rights.
Adam Cote, a veteran of the Maine National Guard, followed Mills. Cote said his past work was mostly in renewable energy.
Cote described his vision for Maine in 10 years.
“We should be having the best schools in the country right here in Maine, we should be able to provide healthcare for all our people, we should be able to have broadband… and as somebody who has worked primarily in the renewable energy, I see it as a great opportunity to grow our economy,” Cote said.
Cote also said Maine needs to aim to appear welcoming to outsiders to combat the state’s aging workforce.
Patrick Eisenhart, a retired U.S Coast Guard Officer, took the podium after Cote. Eisenhart’s main agenda was to expose corruption caused by money in politics. He specifically mentioned the Koch brothers, multi-billionaire businessmen who have financed conservative politics for decades.
Eisenhart mentioned his previous lobbying for health care for the elderly and mentally ill, as well as gun safety.
Eisenhart said as governor he would audit DHHS to try to recover money lost to the Riverview psychiatric facility investigation, and cease LePage’s plans to build a new psychiatric facility in Bangor until it undergoes legislative scrutiny.
Eisenhart also mentioned his support of Mills’ work as Attorney General.
“If elected or when I’m elected governor, I’m going to be absolutely certain to have Janet Mills stay on as our AG because she’s done an outstanding job,” Eisenhart said.
Diane Russell, a Maine House Representative since 2008, began her speech by promoting the Opportunity in Maine student debt relief program which she helped lobby for while she was in college.
“For every year that you work here, you get a dollar for dollar tax credit against your student loan debt,” Russell said.
Russell mentioned her work to pass ranked choice voting in Maine, a system of voting where voters rank their candidates in order of their appeal.
“Ranked choice voting is about voting for your hopes, not your fears; that we have an election system that invites independents in,” Russell said.
Russell also said she is introducing an amendment that would require superdelegates to vote proportionately to the popular vote.
Betsy Sweet started off her speech by speaking about her lobbying attempts and efforts to bring more diverse lobbyists to Maine. She says although these efforts have been successful, they have failed to change the status quo in Maine.
“In Maine we have the clean elections law which I happened to do the research for and write in 1996… You want to know why we don’t have single payer insurance in this country and in Maine?… because big money comes in right when we’re about to get it done and stops it,” Sweet said.
Sweet described a community service program to help keep young people in Maine’s workforce.
“I want to put forward a program where voluntarily, every student in Maine who graduates as a senior in high school has the opportunity to give a year of community service, and in exchange, you get four years of free tuition at any Maine institution,” Sweet said.
Several candidates said they consider Mary Mayhew to be the frontrunner on the Republican side. Mayhew is a Commissioner for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services who helped with LePage’s welfare overhaul.
While serving at the DHHS Mayhew helped reduce the number of people on the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program from 39,000 to 11,100. Mayhew also reduced the number of people on food stamps from 253,000 to 183,200, and reduced Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) spending by $7,000, according to her website.