CAPE ELIZABETH — Candidates for state Senate District 29 and House District 30 discussed a wide range of issues as part of Wednesday’s candidates’ night, hosted by the high school’s advanced-placement U.S. government class.
At Town Hall, the House candidates took questions for the first hour and the Senate candidates had the second hour.
The discussion began with incumbent Democratic state Rep. Kimberly Monaghan-Derrig and Republican challenger Pauline Wilcox answering questions. Democratic state Rep. Scott Hamann, who is unopposed in District 32, also participated in this segment.
Monaghan-Derrig and Wilcox found themselves politely disagreeing on many topics. When asked how they would ensure adequate state funding for education in Cape Elizabeth, Monaghan-Derrig shared ideas on where to make cuts.
“I think there are other areas we should prevent, which is further funding or consideration for charter schools,” Monaghan-Derrig said. “I don’t think we need to develop any more right now.”
She also said she thinks it is important for the Legislature to continue to commit to pay 55 percent of education funds. She said she wants this percentage to grow.
Wilcox talked about how the economy is shaping education.
“I think if we did something to make this a more business-friendly state, we would be much better able to negotiate how this funding coming back to us is the right thing to do,” Wilcox said.
Monaghan-Derrig also talked about education when asked what can be done to keep young people from moving out of state. She said there needs to be specialized job training, and she said the discussion should start in school.
“We need to really make every school understand the importance of talking about work opportunities and careers,” she said.
Monaghan-Derrig said this needs to start in elementary school and continue through high school. She said the career fairs in Cape Elizabeth have been useful and she’d like to see more of them. She also talked about making Maine’s public universities more affordable.
Wilcox said she also likes the idea of career days, but she talked more about creating partnerships that could strengthen businesses and education.
“I like the idea of linking businesses that are here with our educational facilities that are here so that we could give businesses more of the specific training they need,” Wilcox.
When it came to talking about whether or not the state’s minimum wage should be raised, the two candidates had completely opposite views.
“I think a livable wage is the right thing to do and I don’t think $7.25 an hour is a livable wage,” Monaghan-Derrig said.
She said the minimum wage needs to be raised so people can afford health care and other bills. She said people will also be able to buy more things, thus improving the economy.
Wilcox disagreed, saying that raising the minimum wage would raise the cost of everything else, meaning people still wouldn’t be able to afford the things they need.
“It doesn’t solve the problem,” Wilcox said. “I think solving the problem is done in a different way. I think it’s luring good businesses to stay, it’s luring good businesses to come, it’s making us a work-friendly state.”
She said a higher minimum wage isn’t the answer and that if Maine was “fiscally different and smarter” it would “be in better shape.”
Many similar topics were discussed by state Senate candidates: incumbent Democrat Sen. Rebecca Millett and two challengers, Republican Bill De Sena and Green Independent Mark Diehl.
On the topic of how Maine can keep students attending college in state, the three candidates had different ideas.
De Sena said there should be work programs so students can work while in school, so they can pay for their education as they study. He said not much can be done about the cost of college education, however.
“I don’t think the universities can afford to drop their tuitions, which is a real tragedy because I think student enrollments are dropping around the country,” De Sena said. “The cost of education has gotten so high, once you spend all that money, you find that you can’t find a job.”
He went on to say that this is causing people to question whether they need an education. Millett disagreed with De Sena, saying that while students are in school, education should be their top priority. She said having a job can interfere with this.
“It has been shown to be a major obstacle in students’ ability to complete their program and there is now a push to try to encourage as many students as possible to go full time and complete their degree so we don’t lose them,” Millett said.
Diehl said more can be done while in high school to bring down the financial burden of college.
“There are also a lot of interesting ideas that have been around a long time, like AP classes … things that can get you college credit when you walk in the door,” Diehl said. “I think our schools can focus on issues like that and give students the opportunity to earn some credit before they even graduate from high school.”
The candidates also disagreed on what can be done to retain and attract businesses in Maine. Millett said when she was first elected, legislators met with businesses to see what could be done to help them grow.
“Interestingly enough, they did not raise the issue of taxes, they did not raise the issue of regulatory requirements,” Millett said. “Their No. 1 message to us was workforce development.”
She said that since then, many committees and programs have been formed to work on this. De Sena said he doesn’t like this idea.
“I would discourage a lot of government programs because of the cost to the tax payer,” De Sena said. “The one thing I would encourage government to do is to lower the corporate tax rate and also to adjust the individual income tax.”
Diehl said he left the corporate world because he didn’t like the way it ran. He said he doesn’t want big corporations to come into Maine and said people need to make themselves more marketable to other businesses.
“To get companies to come in that are paying people decent wages, that are going to take care of workers, we need to have an educated workforce with skills to offer the market place,” Diehl said.
The candidates were also asked how Maine should meet future energy needs.
“The cheapest power you could possibly have and the most sustained and consistent power would be hydro,” De Sena said. “We’re going to see the energy prices increase 25 percent in the next few years. There’s no alternative. You cannot bring in wind, solar at an affordable rate.”
Diehl said there are other alternatives to hydro power, but he had a different approach for how they can be tapped.
“If we wanted to put huge solar farms or something like that, that would take a lot of initial investment,” he said. “If we instead give incentives to people to do them themselves, and all that power feeds into the grid, then all of a sudden you’ve got individuals acting as venture capitalists to build our own energy grid with solar, with wind, with whatever.”
Millett said she believes it’s possible to utilize alternative energy sources, but that people should try to use less energy.
“I would imagine that if we go into a situation where the supply becomes evermore limited, the cost-benefit analysis is going to change quite drastically,” Millett said. “I think it’s important that we decrease our need for energy supplies.”
She also said the equipment used to utilize fossil fuels needs to be upgraded and made more efficient.
Another forum will be held Oct. 22 from 7-9 p.m. for local candidates. Incumbent Town Councilor Kathy Ray and candidate Patricia Grennon will be followed by three School Board candidates: incumbents Joanna Morrissey and Elizabeth Scifres, and challenger Barbara Powers.