Less than 50 days to the primary…

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Things are heating up a bit in Maine’s race for the Blaine House and a couple issues are starting to divide the candidates, even those on the same side of the aisle, with the June 8 primary date creeping closer.

On the Democratic side, recent debates have produced some sparring between the five candidates on issues such as gun control laws, establishing statewide teacher pay contracts and mandatory sick leave pay.

Rosa Scarcelli, who owns an affordable housing company in Portland, is a first-time candidate and she’s clearly trying to make her mark as the Democrat standing apart from the status quo. When asked to answer yes or no to whether or not she would support equalizing teacher pay across the state during a debate this week in Westbrook, she first asked for more information, but when pressed, said, “yes.”

“Well, you guys are saying no, and I’m saying yes,” Scarcelli said, turning to look at the other candidates sitting on the panel.

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She’s also tried to establish herself as a stronger gun law advocate than the rest. During a debate in Portland sponsored by the Maine League of Young Voters, a question was posed about recent lock-downs in the Portland school district because of gun threats. While the other candidates tried to strike a balance between advocating legal gun ownership and Maine’s hunting traditions and condemning illegal acts and threats to children, Scarcelli saw an opportunity.

Maine’s current laws, which allow for automatic weapons and handguns among others to be purchased sans background checks in Uncle Henry’s, don’t go far enough, Scarcelli said.

Another issue that’s elicited different positions from the Democratic candidates is a bill considered by the Legislature this year, sponsored by gubernatorial candidate and sitting Senate President Libby Mitchell. As originally proposed, it would have mandated sick leave for Maine workers.

During the Westbrook debate, Scarcelli said that while she provides 21 paid sick days to her employees, she said the proposal sent the wrong message to businesses; John Richardson, former commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development, said it was a good bill, just the wrong time. Mitchell wasn’t there.

On the Republican side, Les Otten began publicizing the news that Jackson Laboratory, a Bar Harbor-based genetic research company, is likely going to build an additional facility in Florida. It wouldn’t be shifting any Maine jobs to Florida, rather create a new facility that would employ up to 200 people to begin with.

Otten has asserted in a press release that it could expand over 10 years to employ up to 7,000 workers.

It’s representative of what’s wrong in Augusta, that the state would let Florida woo Jackson Lab without competing, he said.

Most candidates on both sides of the aisle have been eager to jump on the bandwagon and trumpet the importance of keeping successful businesses in Maine.

But during a recent debate, Republican candidate Peter Mills, a sitting state senator, had enough of what he called Otten’s “grotesque exaggeration.”

“The state of Maine is not sending 7,000 jobs down to Florida. Jackson Labs has completely refuted it. They are sending down somewhere between zero and two hundred jobs,” Mills said, adding that Florida is considering offering up to $260 million in state and local funds to attract Jackson Labs.

“Frankly, the state of Maine couldn’t have possibly competed for that facility,” Mills said.

Florida’s annual state budget is about $67 billion, Maine’s two-year budget is about $5.7 billion.

“There was never a discussion in the state of Maine (to make an offer); I’m appalled that you’ve challenged me,” Otten said in response. “I stand by my statement.”

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