Senate District 7 candidates contrast on energy, business, welfare
CAPE ELIZABETH — It's been rapid turnover for voters in state Senate District 7, which will elect a senator Nov. 6 for the third time in two years.
State Sen. Cynthia Dill, D-Cape Elizabeth, who won a special election in the district in May, is not seeking re-election because she is running for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe.
Mike Wallace and Rebecca Millett are competing for Dill's seat, which represents Cape Elizabeth, South Portland and a portion of Scarborough.
Republican candidate Wallace will face his first election for any office this November after the original Republican candidate, South Portland businessman Gary Crosby, dropped out. Wallace is a U.S. Air Force veteran, works in information technology and was a Ron Paul delegate at the Republican National Convention. He lives with his partner and their five children in South Portland.
Democratic candidate Millett is a former six-year Cape Elizabeth School Board member and has a background in finance. This is her first race for state office after defeating state Rep. Bryan Kaenrath in the June Democratic primary. She lives with her husband and twin daughters in Cape Elizabeth.
Although the candidates largely agree on social issues facing the state – including Question 1, the same-sex marriage referendum, where they said they are both in favor of marriage equality – they have different approaches toward business, welfare programs and alternative energy development.
Both candidates said Maine is not as unfriendly toward business as some ranking systems have suggested, but they have different approaches about how to boost Maine's economy.
A part of Millett's economic focus is bringing together education, business, worker and economic development groups to develop a focused plan for the economy.
"I want to have a real goal-oriented, outcome-oriented process," she said. "Let's be very specific about it and say, here's what we want to do, here's how we're going to do it, here's the time frame, here's the resources that are going to be utilized, and actually implement it."
She said the state should focus on its assets, such as its high standard of living, and use it as leverage to attract qualified, trained workers.
Wallace said he is more focused on reducing regulations, especially for smaller businesses, placing specific importance on small-scale, local farming.
"I'm really concerned about local food and would like us to be more independent," he said, noting that most of Maine's food comes from far away. "Food distribution is really important. It doesn't do us any good to have all these local farms, if (the food) is still sitting out in the field."
Wallace said he would like to see regulations for community efforts, like food pantries, dropped.
"I can see for small people it's incredibly frustrating to say, if they want to start a food pantry, or even just a neighborhood food drive, they can't do it because of health regulations or because of permits," he said. "I think with informed consent of everybody that's participating, that's ridiculous."
In addition to providing incentives for small farms in the state, he also said he would be in favor of a "flat tax" over the income tax.
The candidates also had different approaches toward welfare programs.
Millett said she does not think Maine spends too much on social programs, but said the state could be more efficient. She said she would maintain a specific focus on early childhood education.
"Are we going to do away with early education, like (Gov. Paul) LePage has recently made cuts into?" she said. "I think that's an ill-advised, short-sided approach and creates more of a demand on our state later for fewer dollars earlier."
She also said safety nets for workers, particularly older workers, who she said are often discriminated against because of their age, should be a priority. She recalled recently meeting a 60-year-old worker, who worked for 30 years at Unum, was laid off and has been unable to find new work.
"What do we say to her, 'your 30 years didn't matter, you're now a burden to us?'" she said. "I think there are programs out there that are necessary to help people who, through no fault of their own, are struggling."
Wallace said his approach toward social programs would be to focus on prevention, by encouraging mentoring for children to help break the cycles of poverty.
"Kids needs to have an understanding of where they are coming from, so they can go through that process of overcoming their background," he said. "What is our goal with our social services system, what are we trying to do with these people, maintain them? Or help them experience life?"
He would also like to see strong mental health programs, he said.
"I do think there is administrative waste, but we need to do something in communities where we have chronic mental health issues," Wallace said, lending support for programs that address those issues. "It's important to be connecting kids with mentors and mental health workers to help them understand what's going on in life."
Both candidates support the development of alternative energy, but Wallace said he would be hesitant to provide any subsidies for industry and instead favors deregulation as a way to encourage development.
"People (say) regulations keep us safe, but the fact that I've seen is that regulations are lobbied for by the companies involved to protect their assets and to protect their interests," he said. "I think the best thing that we can do as a market for energy is emphasize that the regulations would be minimal, but that you are also liable for what you do in this state."
In lieu of regulations, Wallace said the state should have ways to make sure companies are held responsible for any negative impact on the environment they might cause.
"We need to be certain that any company that does business in Maine, that we have the reach to their assets to cover any potential liabilities," he said. "It's not a regulation or a bar. It's a price that they would need to pay to do business in Maine."
Millett said she would support subsidies for the development of alternative energy and thinks to not do so would be hypocritical compared with the history of energy development.
"This argument that these industries should be able to do it on their own, flies completely in the face of what our nation has done in the past in regards to oil exploration and nuclear power development," she said. "I think we're sticking our heads in the sand if we think we don't need to get serious about these things and make them a reality."
Environmental impact would also need to be considered for new energy sources, like noise pollution from wind turbines, Millett said.