24 people have filed with the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices as gubernatorial candidates.
Republicans: Steven Abbott, William Beardsley, Matthew Jacobson, Paul LePage, Peter Mills, Leslie Otten, Bruce Poliquin, J. Martin Vachon.
Democrats: Donna Dion, Patrick McGowan, Elizabeth Mitchell, John Richardson, Steven Rowe, Rosa Scarcelli, Peter Truman.
Unenrolled: Samme Bailey, Christopher Cambron, Beverly Cooper-Pete, Eliot Cutler, Augustus Edgerton, Alex Hammer, Kevin Scott, John Whitcomb.
Green independent: Lynne Williams.
LEWISTON — Seven of the eight Republicans who want to be Maine’s next governor shared their views on casinos, nuclear power and gay marriage with more than 100 voters Saturday.
The Androscoggin County Republican Caucus gave the candidates a chance to talk about who they are, why they are running and where they stand on a few major issues.
“If we unify, this is a Republican year,” said William Beardsley, the former president of Husson College who is running for governor.
The eight-member field of Republicans are vying for their party’s nomination in June, while seven Democrats are working their side of the ideological aisle. There are also eight unenrolled candidates and one Green independent in the race.
The Republicans have criss-crossed the state for weeks to attend various town, city and county caucuses, which will continue for another few weeks until the campaign shifts to forums, debates and the party convention in May.
All Democrats in Maine caucused on a single day in January.
Marsha Graef of Lewiston said she was attending her first caucus Saturday.
“The reason why I’m here is I’m very upset with the federal government and state government,” she said. “Our current politicians at the state and federal level are just not listening to the people.”
Waterville Mayor Paul LePage, one of the GOP contestants, drew applause from the audience when he pulled a copy of the U.S. Constitution from his suit jacket pocket and vowed to keep it on his desk as governor.
“I’m going to shrink government and we’re going to reform our regulations,” he said.
Each candidate had eight minutes to give a mini-stump speech, and then the audience had a chance to ask questions. J. Martin Vachon was the only Republican candidate who did not attend the caucus.
On the issue of casinos, Sen. Peter Mills, R-Cornville, said he was not in favor of them; Beardsley said he opposed them; Steve Abbott, Matt Jacobson and Les Otten said it should be up to local communities to decide; Bruce Poliquin said he opposed them, but that voters would decide on an Oxford County proposal in November; and LePage said he personally opposes casinos but that as governor, it would be a “private sector issue.”
All of the candidates favored bringing nuclear power back to Maine, with some saying that the former site of the Maine Yankee plant in Wiscasset is a good place and others mentioning the Brunswick Naval Air Station and Loring Air Force Base.
During his speech, Otten said he wouldn’t be afraid to veto legislation; he referenced the actions of the state’s most recent Republican governor, John McKernan, who served from 1987 to 1995.
“I will shut down government when it needs to be shut down,” Otten said.
Poliquin touted his business experience, saying he has spent his entire professional life in the private sector.
“I know what it’s like to balance a budget and sign the front of a paycheck,” he said. “I’ve done it.”
On the issue of gay marriage, Mills said he voted in favor of a gay-marriage bill in the state Senate last year, but that he believes it is an issue that should be decided by voters. Beardsley and Otten said they would veto gay-marriage legislation.
Abbott and Jacobson said they oppose gay marriage, but support civil unions. Poliquin said he believes in the traditional definition of marriage, but that it should be up to voters to decide the issue. LePage opposes gay marriage, but would support some sort of “contractual agreement” to help couples with legal issues.
Mills said he has shown he can win races, even in years when Democrats do well.
“Put me in there and I will do us proud,” he said.
Jacobson said his work at Maine & Co., which recruits businesses to come to Maine, has given him the experience to know what will spark the economy in Maine.
“We need to make Maine the easiest place in the world to do business,” he said.
Abbott said he would cut the state’s DirigoHealth program, the state Office of Health Policy and Finance and the State Planning Office.
“Our state government has three task forces on global warming,” he said. “I’d cut all of those too.”
Poliquin supporter Scott Oliver of Lisbon said he thought momentum from Republican Sen. Scott Brown’s win in Massachusetts — where Brown upset a Democrat to fill Sen. Ted Kennedy’s seat — would make its way up to Maine.
“It certainly cannot be business as usual,” he said. “We’re in a great position of having a number of qualified candidates on the Republican side.”