Senate candidates Dave Miramant and Paula Sutton
Senate candidates Dave Miramant and Paula Sutton
The midcoast is a battleground in the fight to control the State Senate. Currently, Democrats have a four-seat majority out of 35 seats in the Senate, and outside groups from both sides are dropping buckets of money on ads in targeted races. In District 12, which encompasses almost all of the towns in Knox County, neither party is taking a win for granted.

Knox County has historically been a difficult county to predict, as it has been represented by both parties. Congresswoman Chellie Pingree was the county's senator for most of the 1990s, followed by Republicans Christine Savage of Union (2000-2008) and Chris Rector of Thomaston (2008-2012), and current Democrat Sen. Ed Mazurek.

A debate between the current candidates for the Knox County Senate seat, held October 1 at Camden Hills Regional High School, clearly defined the differences between the two.

Paula Sutton: Less Government, More Voluntarism

Republican Paula Sutton of Warren is a newcomer on the political scene. Her politics are Tea Party-aligned, and she has been running an energetic campaign to retake the seat for the Republicans, knocking on around 7,000 doors. Sutton's staunchly conservative politics stress lower taxes and fewer regulations on businesses. She describes her background as that of a small-business owner - she cites her former ownership of McLellan's Seafood in Edgecomb, from approximately 1988 to 1995, and Germaine's Seafood in Waldoboro, from approximately 1995 to 1997, and experience as a principal in Eastern Traders, a wholesale seafood business. According to Sutton, the businesses she owned employed "two to six employees depending on what time of year, mostly part-timers." She is not currently employed or involved in a business.

Her campaign is also focused on opposing government-funded safety-net programs for the needy, arguing that programs should be volunteer-based and not funded with tax money. She said her experience as a volunteer teacher in Central America can serve as an example for others.

"True compassion is getting out of your comfort zone and teaching at a jungle school in Belize and showing people how they can improve themselves on a voluntary basis ... not forcing somebody to pay tax dollars. If you want to help them out, reach into your own pocket and do it yourself."

Dave Miramant: Clean Energy, Fairer Taxes

Democrat Dave Miramant is making his second run for the Senate, following a loss to Chris Rector in 2008. Miramant, a former Delta Airlines pilot, served on the Camden Select Board from 2000 to 2003 and as state representative for Camden and Rockport from 2006 to 2008. He currently runs a business, based at Knox County Regional Airport, giving glider rides around the region. Miramant served on the Natural Resources Committee in the Legislature and has focused his campaign on maintaining government services, revenue sharing to municipalities and ending reliance on fossil fuels by supporting renewable energy.

"We've got this challenge to clean up our environment with the legacy of dirty fuel that we haven't broken away from and we're still suffering from," said Miramant at the forum. "[Renewable power] will start the clean-up and by increased use, we'll help to generate better uses, better systems, and better technology."

Both candidates disagree strongly on the role and scope of government. Sutton says she believes there should be more consolidation of state departments and agencies to find efficiencies.

"If some of the administrative folks up in Augusta were allowed to cross-train and work in Marine Resources when it was busy there, but over to Inland Fisheries when it was busy there, I think that would be one opportunity that you could save some money ... rather than staying in their department as they generally are encouraged to do now," said Sutton.

Miramant disagreed.

"We've cut back on our staffing so much up there that there really isn't an excess of jobs here," said Miramant. "We were looking for efficiencies in school consolidation, and that has had limited results as of the last reporting."

Sutton also said if elected she would consider submitting a law to limit the number of state laws.

"I definitely don't think that every situation requires a law to take care of it," said Sutton. "Every situation does not require government intervention and a lot of situations just need to be talked out rationally between neighbors over the fence or otherwise."

The Existence of Climate Change

The candidates disagree strongly on the existence of climate change.

"I've lived here my whole life and, quite frankly, I'm not a scientist, but I haven't noticed any climate change in my state of Maine," said Sutton. "I haven't noticed any here. There is a lot of money being made on the carbon credit trading program and that is a ... large source of income for some organizations."

Sutton is skeptical of the benefits of renewable energy.

"Renewable energy sources are fine if they're efficient," said Sutton. "However, I'm not convinced that they are efficient at this particular point in time."

Miramant said there is plenty of evidence to show that climate change is happening in Maine and that the state should take action.

"We have lake acidification. We have ocean temperatures rising and it doesn't take much of a rise to change the population of species," said Miramant. "The switch to alternatives that are clean and non- polluting will cut the CO2 emissions and that is one of the big problems affecting us with global warming."

The introduction to Lloyd's of London's emerging risks report, "Catastrophe Modelling and Climate Change," released earlier this year, reads: "The Earth's global climate system is warming.... Increasing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, largely due to human activity such as combustion of fossil fuels and land use change, result in an enhancement of the planet's natural greenhouse effect and in increased surface warming. The additionally captured energy is stored to the largest part in the oceans and, in combination with a warming of surface air temperatures, results in changes to the physical climate system..... One of the primary concerns for insurers is the potential for these changes in climate and weather patterns to affect extreme weather events." And the report notes, "The approximately 20 centimetres of sea-level rise at the southern tip of Manhattan Island increased Superstorm Sandy's surge losses by 30 percent in New York alone."

The recent National Climate Assessment developed by 300 climate experts predicts that New England will increasingly be hit with heat waves and coastal flooding, threatening agriculture, infrastructure, ecosystems and fisheries, due to warming global temperatures.
Taxes and Revenue Sharing to Towns and Cities

Miramant took aim at Sutton for signing Grover Norquist's Washington, DC-based political advocacy group's Taxpayer Protection Pledge, by which legislators pledge never to raise taxes, ever. Sutton stood by her commitment.

"If a taxpayer wants to pay higher taxes, that's great," said Sutton. "Send in all the money you want."

Miramant said that the Pledge could prevent lawmakers from making the tax code more fair and equitable. Although he said he had "no plans" to raise taxes, Miramant said he supported 2007 tax reform legislation that would have shifted the tax burden from property taxes to sales taxes on discretionary items and services, particularly for recreational activities that tourists do.

"I think that would have been a good way to start getting money back. Not just because [tourists] are coming here, but because they require us to have more services for them, so it's only fair," said Miramant.

And each of the candidates has their own interpretation of tax fairness. In 2011, Republicans passed over $400 million in tax cuts, mostly from income taxes. While Republicans have touted the policy as the "largest tax cut in Maine history," Democrats complain that it was skewed to benefit the wealthy and shifted the tax burden to property tax payers. Last year, with a budget hole roughly equal to the size of those tax cuts, Gov. LePage proposed to suspend revenue sharing altogether to balance the budget. Revenue sharing, which is meant to relieve the property tax burden, is derived from a combination of sales, service provider, personal and corporate income taxes. The amount of money that gets sent back to the municipality is based on a formula including municipal populations, state valuations and tax assessments.

In a compromise to balance the budget, the Legislature cut revenue sharing by a third, shifted about $29 million of the state's $201 million in teacher retirement obligations to towns, cut funding to property tax relief programs, and raised sales and meals and lodging taxes. Over $300 million in income tax cuts passed in 2011 was preserved.

Meanwhile, although Rockland's retail sales have improved by 14.5 percent since a low point in 2009, revenue sharing from the state has been cut by $651,146, or 56 percent, since 2009. As a result, municipal officials say the city has been forced to raise property taxes and lay off staff.

Sutton said she supports phasing out revenue sharing completely.

"I am not opposed to having [revenue sharing] phased out gradually over a period of time if people could just be left with more money in your pocket," said Sutton.

Roads

As far as repairing local roads, Miramant said he would pursue more federal funding and possibly more borrowing by issuing bonds.

Sutton said, incorrectly, that the gas tax is not dedicated to roads, but rather is dumped into the state's General Fund.

"I'm not a fan of the general fund concept because it's like dunking all of the money into one big pool," said Sutton. "You can't see where it should go. If we went back to the previous method of putting it into different accounts, we would be able to budget a little more wisely."

According to a DOT spokesman, the gas tax is in fact dedicated to the Highway Fund, which helps pay for transportation infrastructure, the State Police, and the Bureau of Motor Vehicles.

Health Care and Medicaid Expansion

The candidates disagree on whether the state should accept over $300 million a year in federal dollars to provide Medicaid coverage to 70,000 low-income Mainers. Maine is currently the only state in New England and one of 23 states nationally that has refused to accept the money, which would provide 100-percent federal reimbursement to cover patients for three years before it gradually phases down to 90 percent in 2020.

Miramant expressed strong support for expanding Medicaid and said one of his priorities would be to study a state universal single-payer health insurance system similar to the program Vermont is pursuing.

"We need health care for every Maine person and it doesn't need to go through business," said Miramant.

Sutton said uninsured, Medicaid-eligible patients in Knox County should try to buy private insurance or seek treatment at federally qualified health clinics (FQHC), which provide a sliding scale for low-income people. The only FQHC in the county is on Vinalhaven. The area's clinic for low-income people, the Knox County Health Clinic in Rockland, is staffed by volunteers and is only open once a week. Specialized treatment for the uninsured must come from hospital charity care.

Speaking in opposition to Medicaid expansion at a public hearing in January, Sutton expressed doubt that Medicaid-eligible people can't afford treatment.

"I can go to the movies, buy fancy new clothes and a 12-pack or I can save for a yearly physical," said Sutton. "I know what I would do, yet others choose differently and asking anyone to subsidize their choices is not right. The message it sends is that the government will take care of you. Health care starts at home, not in Augusta."

Open Pit Mining and the Toxic Chemicals

On the LePage administration's failed effort to loosen environmental regulations to allow open pit mining for precious metals, the candidates were also divided, with Sutton supporting it and Miramant opposed.

"Every mine project out West seems to be there 30 years after shut-down, contaminated with mercury, heavy metals," said Miramant. "I fear if we allow too many of these polluting businesses to continue to operate as business as usual, we'll destroy the very thing that helps us to live here and bring people here."

Sutton said open pit mining is much safer than other forms of mining, adding, "I think most businesses try to act responsibly, and can be trusted to do so."

Charter Schools and Education

Both candidates expressed support for charter schools, which are privately managed, publicly funded schools. Maine's charter school law requires that public school districts provide tuition for any students in the district attending a charter, which is on average $8,000 to $9,000 per student. Under the law, there can be up to 10 charter schools in the state and there are currently six in operation, including one online "virtual school." The Maine Charter School Commission is currently considering the applications for three more charter schools and another virtual school. Virtual schools are for-profit institutions that allow students to attend classes on their computers from home.

"[Parents] should have the option to [send their children to charter schools] and the funding should definitely follow the child," said Sutton.

Miramant agreed, but said virtual schools should be banned.

"[Virtual schools] don't fit my idea of a school creating a community of students and teachers working together around the common goal that was part of the charter," he said.

Lastly, both candidates were divided on Gov. LePage's proposal to require school districts to reimburse state universities for students who have to take remedial classes when entering college.

"I don't believe that [the costs] need to be passed on to the towns or school districts because they're trying to do their job and sending them prepared," said Miramant.

Sutton supported the Governor's idea, stating that she had a friend who graduated from the high school in Rockland and had to take remedial classes at a community college. She said he was considering suing the school district because he doesn't believe that he got a proper education.

"I wouldn't rule out having some sort of reimbursement," said Sutton. "68 cents out of my property taxes are going to education and if a student graduates and cannot perform these tasks, I don't think that's a good use of my money."