SKOWHEGAN — U.S. Senate candidate Angus King toured the Somerset Grist Mill on Wednesday, saying small farms producing food for local markets will have a big effect on the future of the state’s economy.
“I think it’s very important. It’s a real bright spot,” King said. “If you were made the CEO of Maine Inc., the first thing you would do is look at what your assets are; and one of our biggest assets is a lot of good, arable land. I think it has huge value, not only in Maine, but as an exporter.”
King, an independent and former Maine governor, rode into town on his 2004 Harley Davidson V-Rod motorcycle as part of a statewide campaign tour. He was accompanied on the ride from Bangor by about 10 other motorcyclists.
King, 68, is seeking to fill the seat that U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, is leaving after deciding not to seek re-election. He faces Secretary of State Charlie Summers, the Republican nominee, and Democratic state Sen. Cynthia Dill in the November election.
Workers and volunteers at the grist mill on Wednesday prepared shares for The Pickup, a community supported agriculture program, the Wednesday Farmers’ Market and the sixth annual Kneading Conference, which opens today at the Skowhegan Fairgrounds.
A sampling of opinion among people at the mill and elsewhere in Skowhegan found support for King’s candidacy to be plentiful but not unanimous.
Don Perkins, 62, of Skowhegan, and his son, Don Perkins II, 41, of Cornville, electricians working at the grist mill, said the economy is the most important issue facing the nation.
Both men are registered Republicans and said they will take a close look at King as Election Day approaches.
“I’ll think about it, yeah. I think he did well when he was governor,” the younger Perkins said.
Amber Lambke, who bought the former Somerset County jail in 2009 and converted it into the grist mill, with shops and a cafe, said she likes King’s experience and abilities.
“Angus is supportive of Maine’s small farms and interested in the regional infrastructure that will support strengthening Maine small farms,” Lambke, 37, said. “I was very interested to learn about Angus deciding to run.”
Lambke’s mother, Nancy Kerner, who is retired and volunteers for the Kneading Conference, said she is delighted that King is running. She said she is registered as an independent and will vote for King this fall.
Her friend and fellow volunteer Mell Banton, also retired and also an independent, said she, too, likes King.
“Definitely, I am voting for him,” Banton said.
Sarah Smith, owner of Grasslands Organic Farms and manager of The Pickup, said she is likely to vote for King. She is a Democrat.
“I’ll have to see how if all unfolds. I want to hear what he has say about the local food movement — local food in rural communities,” she said.
Steve Dionne, 57, the general contractor for the grist mill project, said he is a registered member of Maine’s Green Party, and is leaning toward King for U.S. Senate, too.
“I liked him when he was the governor of the state of Maine. I found him to be the most inspirational speaker of any governor that we’ve had,” Dionne said. “It’s my hope that he can go to Washington and maybe he can inspire some of the fellow senators to get something accomplished. I would say the gridlock that’s in place right now is the most important thing; trying to get people to compromise and move forward.”
Others interviewed in Skowhegan after King left Wednesday said they, too, supported the former governor, but still others were unimpressed.
Doreen Poulin, owner of Key Appliance in downtown Skowhegan and a registered Republican, said she would vote for Summers, not King.
“I think Angus King would create more gridlock than we already have down there,” she said. “There’s too much gridlock.”
Former Skowhegan police officer Donald Cyr, a Democrat, said he is undecided in the race for U.S. Senate because he thinks all of the candidates — King included — are in it for their own gain, not for what’s best for the people of Maine.
“I wish that they would all work together and stop fighting amongst themselves,” he said. “I think the Republicans want to make sure that our president fails, and I don’t know much about (Dill).”
King was the clear leader in a poll released at the end of June, with 50 percent of those in the survey saying they would vote for him. Summers drew 23 percent, while Dill got 9 percent. The poll was commissioned by WBUR, the Boston affiliate of National Public Radio, and conducted by the nonpartisan MassINC Polling Group.
King’s motorcycle tour of the state began last weekend at the Potato Blossom Festival in Aroostook County, where the two-term former governor met with local farmers. He rode Monday from Fort Kent to Calais, said Adam Lachman, a King campaign worker. The campaign ride is expected to end today in Kittery.