Republican gubernatorial candidate Chandler Woodcock broke from the pack on key issues Thursday while independent Barbara Merrill took aim at Democratic Gov. John Baldacci during a four-way debate at the University of Southern Maine that also featured Green Independent Pat LaMarche.
But it was the other candidate on the Nov. 7 ballot – independent Phillip Morris NaPier – who got the crowd’s attention before the debate began.
NaPier, who was not invited to the event, showed up anyway and charged in a brief speech to the audience that he was being discriminated against.
Accompanied by his service dog Belle and carrying a megaphone that he did not try to use in the lecture hall, NaPier stood at the front of the room before the four other candidates went on stage and urged the crowd of about 150 people to walk out if he was not allowed to participate. He was escorted from the building without incident by a USM police officer, who threatened to arrest him if he did not leave.
Debate organizer John Ferland said later that the Environmental and Energy Technology Council of Maine, which sponsored the forum, decided not to invite NaPier because the group wanted to focus on “the real candidates” who have funding, significant public support and active campaigns.
The 90-minute debate, which centered on energy and environmental issues, was less volatile than NaPier’s brief appearance.
Baldacci, LaMarche and Merrill agreed that nuclear power has no future in Maine and that wind power does, although Merrill was alone in endorsing the Redington Wind Farm, which Maine Mountain Power LLC wants to build in western Maine.
Baldacci and LaMarche backed a project that’s already under construction in Mars Hill, but they did not weigh in on the Redington plan during the debate.
Baldacci, Merrill and LaMarche all panned the idea of building a nuclear power plant in Maine, because waste disposal remains unresolved.
“The first rule in kindergarten is, don’t make a mess you can’t clean up, and that’s the problem with nuclear power,” LaMarche said.
Woodcock took a different view on both issues, saying no one should expect nuclear power to become part of Maine’s energy mix in the next decade because it would take 10 years to get government approval for a site.
Agreeing that disposal remains a concern, Woodcock described nuclear power as “a clean form of energy” that produces power “at a very low cost.”
Woodcock, who is on record as opposing the proposed Redington Wind Farm, said he does not share the concerns of critics who argue that such projects would destroy the aesthetics in pristine areas by marring the landscape with unsightly turbine towers.
He said, however, that, “I am skeptical of the cost of wind power,” which cannot become a major power source because wind farms generate “a minimal amount” of energy.
Merrill repeatedly took the offensive during the debate, chiding Baldacci and other Democratic Party leaders for what she cited as the shortcomings of her former party.
She criticized Baldacci for signing a state budget last year that called for borrowing more than $400 million to keep state government in the black – a plan that was abandoned after opponents mounted a referendum drive to try to kill it.
She said Baldacci “needs to provide leadership” on the Redington Wind Farm, and she slammed the governor and Democratic leaders in the Legislature for slowing the cleanup of the Androscoggin River.
Maine needs “a governor who can restore faith in state government,” Merrill said. “We won’t get that done with the current leadership.”
For the most part, Baldacci did not take the bait, although he said he is proud of the environmental progress his administration has made.
“That’s my responsibility to my son,” Baldacci said. “That’s my responsibility to the next generation.”
When LaMarche demanded that Maine stop accepting out-of-state waste, Baldacci said Maine has some of the toughest laws in the country on the disposal of such waste, prompting LaMarche to respond: “That’s like saying you have the most strict laws for beating your wife. It shouldn’t be done to begin with.”
Baldacci said Maine and other states are taking the lead on energy and environmental issues “because Washington is failing.” He said he has created a state energy office, adopted “green building standards” for state buildings and made the state’s fleet of vehicles more fuel-efficient.
Reading from a speech that President Carter gave in 1977, LaMarche said the United States was “the most wasteful nation on earth,” and that remains true today. She said Maine must build a future that is “based on conservation.”
Describing Americans as “very spoiled when it comes to energy” consumption, Woodcock called for more research and development and endorsed “a more diversified portfolio” of energy sources.
The reaction of the audience was mixed, although several people noted during interviews after the debate that Merrill was aggressive in her criticism of Baldacci, which pleased some and displeased others.
“What really impressed me was the overall quality of all four people,” said Alfred Padula of Portland. “We didn’t have any real duds there.”
Staff Writer Paul Carrier can be contacted at 622-7511 or at:
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding