By Ann Wood
PARIS—It was a quiet Great Debate at Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School, as nine candidates for state Legislature touted their points of view. The forum, sponsored by the Oxford Hills Chamber of Commerce, drew only about 25 folks and a cable television camera, and the candidates’ prepared stances on casino expansion, health care and minimum wage pretty much ran on party lines.
There were no real sparks until near the end of the 90-minute event when Republican Kathleen Dillingham, who is running for the House District 72 (Oxford, Otisfield, Mechanic Falls) seat against no-show Democrat James Bradley, got angry that others were “demonizing” Walmart.
Dillingham says she shops at the conglomerate because it’s cheaper and she’s on a budget—but Democrat Rose Rogers-Wells, who is up against incumbent Republican Sen. James Hamper in Senate District 19 (Norway, Paris, Oxford, Otisfield, Harrison and beyond) said that corporations move here to pay locals the state’s $7.50/hour minimum wage. That low pay, Rogers-Wells said, forces employees on subsidies that have Mainers footing the bill while lining the pockets of corporate top dogs.
Democratic Maine State Sen. John Patrick, who’s fighting Joseph Martin to keep his District 18 seat (West Paris, Buckfield, Hebron, Sumner, Waterford, Greenwood and beyond), took a more moderate stance.
“I think probably 50-50 says if you increase minimum wage your employer is going to take it on the chin,” he said, adding the other half say it will boost the economy. “I think we should raise it up somewhat.”
Republicans John Martin, Hamper and Rep. Tom Winsor, who’s up against Democrat Dennise Whitley in House District 71 (Waterford, Norway, West Paris, Sweden) said there’s no way they’d do that to business. Dillingham said the Legislature should talk with small business owners to see if they can work out a deal.
The Democrats, including Robert Kircherr, who is running in House District 73 (Paris, Hebron, Buckfield) against Republican Lloyd “Skip” Herrick, agreed minimum wage needs a hike. Herrick was not in attendance, but in a strange twist had Oxford Selectman Pete Laverdiere sit in for him, who read Herrick’s introduction and closure but then answered questions himself. Laverdiere said that employees need to “dicker” for better pay, or find jobs elsewhere.
Though the candidates all agreed that Mainers should have health insurance, again the Republicans and Democrats were divided on how that should come about. The Democrats say that MaineCare, otherwise known as Medicare, should be expanded to cover 70,000 Mainers, including veterans. Republicans say that Medicare would work for three years but then the state would take over what would be exorbitant costs associated with health care.
As for casino expansion, the candidates all said it should be up to voters. However, Martin said he wouldn’t want to see a casino where “poor people can walk to it and spend all their money and not feed their kids.” Kircherr admitted that it’s been the biggest employer to come to the area in a long time, but said that citizens should decide its fate.