October 5, 2010

Candidates speaking at UMaine forum

By Scott Monroe smonroe@mainetoday.com
Staff Writer

ORONO – The five candidates for Maine governor are speaking individually this morning at a forum at the University of Maine at Orono.

Waterville Mayor Paul LePage, the Republican nominee, was the first to speak this morning. He pointed to his “Learn to Earn” program, which he said is inspired by a program in North Carolina in which students have the option of attending five years of high school to earn an associate's degree or two years of transferable credits to a college or university

LePage used the example to take a veiled swipe at his chief rival, Democratic nominee Libby Mitchell.

“I believe the most important person in the classroom is the student,” LePage said. “My opponent will say the most important person in the classroom is the teacher. I don't believe that.” LePage said his administration would take a wholesale look at higher education in Maine, examining costs, graduation rates and how many graduates find employment within a year.

LePage also said he would push for the creation of a “one-stop shopping” website “so you can see what's available in the state of Maine for jobs, the opportunities, the professions, and find out what the business sector and employers offer for future training.”

In describing the importance of higher education, LePage recounted his own story of living in poverty as a child, being taken in my two families and getting the support of then-Sen. Peter Snowe to attend college, first with a bachelor's degree at Husson and then a master's at the University of Maine. He also recounted how his family took a young Jamaican into their home a decade ago, and he is now attending Louisiana State University.

During a question-and-answer session, LePage addressed some hot-button issues. Asked by a student whether he would reject any federal funding and if that would affect grants going toward university research, LePage said he would “take every federal dollar on the table,” but he held a pamphlet of the U.S. Constitution and said he would “look at the fine print and make sure they don't buy us off.”

“If they're going to give us money and put strings attached, I will look at it very carefully,” LePage said. “I will evaluate the strings and some money I will not take.”

Asked by a student whether he thought global warming is a myth, LePage said no, but “I just don't know how severe it is and I'm not sure how much we as human beings contribute to it,” saying that “scientists are divided on it.”

LePage went on to tout his approach to energy, saying he'd focus on investments in hydro and tidal power, but he would evaluate all forms of alternative energy by “the impact on the environment and the cost.”

Other highlights from candidate responses so far:

Kevin Scott, independent:

Scott emphasized his background in hiring and recruiting for high-tech start-up companies, saying that he stood apart from the other candidates because he had no political ties and wants to “move off the same old practices we've used.”

We need to look seriously and make certain we're interviewing our next candidate for governor, the ability to recognize greatness within an organization, and I have that,” Scott said. “I will be a champion and work with the Legislature.”

Scott said the key to Maine's economic future is providing jobs in emerging markets, namely agriculture such as the indoor Backyard Farms tomato greenhouse in Madison. Scott said he would require Maine schools to get their foods from Maine-based producers, and “there's your market right there” to expand the industry.

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