May 9, 2010

McKernan emphasizes party unity

By Susan M. Cover
State House Bureau

PORTLAND -- The seven Republican men running for governor talked about their humble beginnings, vision for the future and the need to cut state government Saturday during the Maine Republican State Convention.

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PARTY FAITHFUL: Former Maine Republican Gov. John McKernan speaks Saturday during the second day of the Maine Republican State Convention in Portland.

AP photo by Joel Page

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As they jockeyed to set themselves apart from the rest of the field, the candidates sought to highlight differences while uniting around the idea that it's time to bring a Republican back to the chief executive's office after a 16-year absence.

The state's last GOP governor, John McKernan, told the 2,000 delegates at the Portland Expo that Republicans can win in November if they stick together.

"I urge you after the primary we have to unite behind the winner," he said. "United we will win, divided we will lose."

The final day of the two-day convention featured a party platform fight in the morning, discussion of a tax reform repeal effort and the speeches by the gubernatorial candidates. And while many delegates have already made up their minds, hundreds have not, giving the candidates an opportunity to pick up votes just one month before the June 8 primary.

Most of the campaigns organized supporters to wave signs and make noise as each candidate made his way to the stage. They played biographical videos and in two cases, brought musicians in with them to liven up the scene.

Steve Abbott, former chief of staff for U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, hit popular themes that have worked on the campaign trail, including pointing out the difficult economy -- and growth in social services. He also talked about his plan to cut Dirigo Health, the State Planning Office and the size of the state work force.

"When you hire a private contractor to do a job, you stop paying them when the job is done," Abbott said.

Next up was Matt Jacobson, CEO of Maine & Co., who talked about his military background and private sector experience as reasons why he would be a good governor.

He said the state's looming $1 billion budget deficit is a chance to bring real change to government.

"This is the greatest opportunity in our lifetime," he said. "We get a chance to reform our government to make it work for Maine people."

Businessman Les Otten, whose supporters ran up the aisles, stressed his "real world experience" as his selling point. He talked about the need to lower taxes, reduce health care costs and bring accountability to state agencies.

"Augusta's twisted and costly policies are strangling our businesses, and driving away our kids," he said.

Sen. Peter Mills, who lost the party nomination four years ago, showcased his blend of private sector experience as a lawyer and public sector service in the Legislature, as his top strengths. He talked about the need to fix bad roads and lower the capital gains tax.

The most moderate of the field, Mills said he can win in November by drawing in independents who make up the largest bloc of voters in Maine.

"Maine has neither the time nor the money to do extra audits, to hesitate on what needs to be done, or to train the new governor in the basics of statecraft," he said.

Waterville Mayor Paul LePage emphasized his difficult childhood in a biographical video and throughout his speech. He struck a more aggressive tone, pointing his finger to stress important points and straining his voice as he spoke.

He proposed a new state motto: "We're open for business."

"I will always place your individual liberties before any interest of Augusta bureaucrats," he said. "It's time for state government to take off the shackles they've placed on the private sector."

Former Husson University President Bill Beardsley highlighted his social and fiscal conservatism. He took direct aim at government regulation saying people and businesses have been "regulated to death." He gave the fictitious example of "Thelma," a woman who owns a wood lot that state regulators say she cannot alter because there are vernal pools -- which are temporary wetlands -- on the property.

"We will flush the 30 years of Democratic flotsam down the Kennebec," he said.

The final speaker of the day, businessman Bruce Poliquin, said he has the financial background to make state government accountable and to bring better fiscal responsibility to the state. He complimented all the other candidates, calling them "good men" and saying that every one of them loves the state.

But he said he's different because he's managed large amounts of money in the private, for profit sector, skills that will be beneficial in Augusta.

"Maine needs to make it easier to do business here, not more difficult," he said.


Susan Cover -- 620-7015

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