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CUMBERLAND — With the Nov. 6 election just weeks away, the two opponents from Falmouth in Senate District 25 squared off Sept. 26 in a candidates forum at Cumberland Town Hall.
Two-term Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth, is being challenged by Republican Cathy Nichols in the district that includes Falmouth, Cumberland, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, Long Island, Gray and part of Westbrook.
House District 45 Rep. Dale Denno, D-Cumberland, and his Republican opponent Tamsin Thomas were also invited by the League of Women Voters to participate in the forum. But Thomas did not participate – she said afterward that she does not drive at night, due to visual impairment – which meant Denno was not allowed to answer questions.
“Because the League of Women Voters and state election laws do not allow us to have a candidates forum without both candidates running (in attendance),” moderator Anne Schink said, the event had to focus on Breen and Nichols; Denno took a seat in the audience, and stuck around after the hour-long forum to chat with constituents.
Matt Dunlap, Maine’s secretary of state, on Tuesday said such a state law does not exist.
“Forums are owned by the people that put them on,” he said, adding that if the League was uncomfortable having Denno there without his opponent, “that’s up to them, but the state would have no say in that.”
Anna Kellar, executive director of League’s Maine chapter, said Tuesday that Schink followed the League’s policy.
“We try not to hold empty-chair forums; that’s what over the course of time has proven to be the fairest thing, to not let one candidate get the microphone if the other one is unable to be there,” she said.
Nichols was a volunteer policy outreach coordinator for the Manufacturers Association of Maine and has served a term on Falmouth’s Recycling & Energy Advisory Committee. Breen spent six years on the Falmouth Town Council and is a ranking member of the Senate’s Appropriations Committee. She is also a board member at Spurwink behavioral health providers.
Among the issues the candidates discussed were what they believe are the top two problems facing Maine’s economy.
Workforce development is one of those issues, Breen said, noting that she repeatedly hears that Maine businesses “do not have the talent pool, the workforce, the credentialed people they need to grow their businesses here, across a bunch of industries.”
Breen also said she supports the bond questions this year that would fund $49 million for the University of Maine System and $15 million for Maine’s seven community colleges.
“We need to be putting more folks into those systems, so that we have the workforce that businesses need to grow right here in Maine,” she said.
Breen also called for “more predictability in state policy,” adding “when the voters pass a bond that says we would like to invest in X, Y or Z,” in areas like affordable senior housing and land conservation, “I would like an administration that goes ahead and issues those bonds, and makes those investments that Mainers believe in.”
Nichols said she would like to ensure that income taxes do not get out of control. “We have unreliable legislation, as far as we never know what our taxes are going to be from year to year,” she said. “And that doesn’t give solid ground for businesses that are here, (or) for businesses that are thinking of coming here.”
The candidates expressed different views on campaign funding. Nichols is traditionally financed, having raised more than $11,000 as of Monday, according to the Maine Ethics Commission. Breen is a Maine Clean Election candidate who has raised more than $45,000.
“Ethically, I just don’t feel it’s right to have my taxpayer dollars used to support someone else’s campaign that I may not agree with,” Nichols said.
Breen said she was “incredibly proud” of the Clean Election program, saying the option any legislative candidate has to qualify for public funding is “a game changer,” allowing those who might not have access to much private money to run for office.
State Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth, left, and her Republican opponent in Senate District 25, Cathy Nichols, with Anne Schink of the League of Women voters at a Sept. 26 candidates forum in Cumberland.