Economy divides Breen, Woods in Senate District 25 Democratic primary
YARMOUTH — Steve Woods and Cathy Breen – local politicians with substantial name recognition – will square off next month in the Democratic primary in Senate District 25.
The new district includes Chebeague Island, Cumberland, Falmouth, Gray, Long Island, Yarmouth and part of Westbrook; much of it was previously Senate District 11, which is represented by Sen. Dick Woodbury, a Cumberland independent who is not seeking re-election.
The unopposed candidate in the Republican primary is William Gardiner of Yarmouth, who declined to be interviewed until after the primary election.
Woods, 54, is the Yarmouth Town Council chairman and owns TideSmart Global, a collection of experiential marketing companies based in Falmouth. A Massachusetts native, Woods graduated from high school and went to work planning conventions for software company McCormack & Dodge. He later worked for Coca-Cola Co. and the Miller Brewing Co., and as a sports agent for professional basketball and baseball players.
He ran for U.S. Senate in 2012 and governor in 2013, and is in his second council term.
Breen, 48, served two terms on the Falmouth Town Council, from 2005-2011, including a term as chairwoman. She grew up in Burlington, Vermont, and studied history and political science at Tufts University, where she captained the women's soccer team.
After graduation, she moved to Chicago and worked in domestic violence prevention for a nonprofit. Her first foray into government service came as a member of the Park District Board in Chicago's Oak Park suburb.
Both candidates have called for education reform and increased access to health care, but their campaigns have focused largely on the state's economic future.
Woods last year published "Maine Forward: 2020 Vision for Maine's Economic Future," an economic treatise that calls for gradual reductions in state aid to more than 100 "insolvent" rural communities. The idea, he said in a recent interview, is to create about 10 "density pods" across the state over a 10-year period and use land grants and tax incentives to encourage people to move to them.
"Some towns, for every dollar they put into the tax pot, they get back $15," Woods said. "That's putting a burden on people in other parts of the state, but more importantly, it's not helping those people. It's locking them into poverty."
In "Maine Forward," Woods argues that Maine's sprawling infrastructure was appropriate for the resource-based economy of centuries past, but it's a major impediment to growth in a skill-based economy that prizes efficiency. Centralized education, health care and employment are key to the state's future, he said.
"I stand by the report. I think years or decades from now, people will look back on the report and it'll be validated by history," Woods said. "Maine has an enormous infrastructure and a small economic engine, and we're holding onto the past in terms of our economic policies. ... The inefficiency of Maine is creating tax barriers that are stopping outside companies from investing in Maine."
Breen agreed that Maine's size and population dispersal are challenges, but she doesn't count herself among the report's supporters.
"It views Maine's demographic reality through the perspective of a ledger – money out, money in," she said. "And essentially forcing people to relocate, I find that inhumane. It's sort of a throwback to a Communist five-year plan."
Breen said her approach to improving the state economic picture would include reforming the University of Maine system to make college more affordable, boost the graduation rate, and improve the quality of the homegrown workforce.
She also called for increased investment in newer Maine industries like bio-tech and eco-tourism, as well as in renewable energy.
"Maine has an incredible wealth of tidal power, off-shore wind and solar (energy)," Breen said. "And I think we've done very little considering how well positioned we are to launch into that industry because our governor has really held us back."
Woods, also a proponent of renewable energy – TideSmart Global's campus has an electric car charger and makes use of a variety of clean energy technologies – questions Breen's economic acumen.
"I respect what Cathy Breen has done in her two terms on the Town Council of Falmouth," Woods said. "I just don't believe she has anything in her background or on her resume that suggests she would be or will be effective in terms of economic and fiscal issues in Augusta."
The candidates have also traded barbs over campaign financing.
Breen is running as a clean election candidate under the Maine Clean Election Act; her campaign is being funded almost entirely by the state, and she can no longer accept private donations. Woods has said he will donate his Senate salary to District 25 schools; he is funding his election entirely on his own, without private donations.
But Breen said that doesn't go far enough.
"If he says, 'I believe in campaign finance reform,' but he uses unlimited amounts of personal money to fund his campaign, I find that hypocritical," she said.
During his 2012 U.S. Senate campaign, Woods listed his personal worth as being in the millions.
He shrugged off the campaign finance criticism.
"Cathy's trying to make clean elections a virtue in itself, when the underlying principles are where the virtue is," Woods said. "If I've been lucky enough in my business that I can support my own campaign, I didn't think it was fair to put that burden on taxpayers. I think my underlying principles are consistent with clean elections, but I call it cleaner elections because I'm paying for it myself."
Election day is Tuesday, June 10.