Independent gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler on Tuesday released an economic opportunity plan for women and families.

Addressing numerous women’s issues, the plan talks of strengthening reproductive freedom, ensuring access to quality and affordable health care, and ending domestic violence, assault and abuse.

Other elements of the plan include strengthening the economy, building a better bridge between welfare and work, ending chronic hunger and homelessness, restoring environmental health protections, and ensuring that women have a say in state policy.

The plan came out of a series of round-table discussions with elected leaders, health-care providers, small-business owners and others, according to a news release from Cutler’s campaign.

“The issues we discussed are not just women’s issues, they are family issues,” Cutler said in a written statement. “Until every woman, man and child has an equal opportunity to make the most of her or his own talents, Maine will not reach its full potential as a great place to live, to make a living and to raise a family.”

To rebuild the economy, Cutler would work to close the wage gap between men and women and focus attention and resources on teenage girls and young women who are not employed or in school. He would also ask the University of Maine and the state’s community college system to consider a “Pay It Forward, Pay It Back” program to provide tuition-free postsecondary education to women and men.

Cutler supports increasing the minimum wage, but prefers it be done nationally rather than at the state level.

He would also look to increase support for working families by expanding early-childhood education and promoting flexible work and family policies.

Based on previous elections, the women’s vote will be important in the race for the Blaine House.

In 2010, women represented 53.4 percent of registered voters in Maine but accounted for 60 percent of the electorate, according to the Maine Women’s Policy Center.

Recent polls suggest that U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, the Democratic candidate, has an early advantage among women. He supports raising the minimum wage and increasing workplace fairness and family planning services. After starting his career as anti-abortion, he now supports a woman’s right to choose, and received the endorsement of NARAL Pro-Choice America.

Michaud spokeswoman Lizzy Reinholt noted that Michaud’s economic plan, unveiled in March, also focuses on reducing the cost of higher education and expanding access to early-childhood education.

“Supporting women and families is a top priority for Congressman Michaud, which is why he rolled out a detailed plan early in the campaign for how to close Maine’s wage gap that includes increasing the minimum wage, expanding access to childcare, and improving paid sick day policies,” Reinholt said in an email. “It’s also why he supports expanding the earned income tax credit for Maine families and increasing access to health care. These are real, concrete policies that will make a difference in the lives of many women and families.”

Republican Gov. Paul LePage, meanwhile, has made ending domestic violence a priority in his first term. However, he has taken several actions – and made some comments – that could hurt his chances of winning the women’s vote.

During the last session, LePage, who is anti-abortion, vetoed a bill that would have allowed family planning services to be covered by Medicaid for some women.

LePage’s political adviser, Brent Littlefield, noted that LePage has appointed four women to his Cabinet and hired about a half-dozen more in leadership roles in his office. He also hailed LePage’s bipartisan efforts to combat domestic violence.

“Liberal politician Eliot Cutler uses words to show he will support women and families, while Gov. LePage has taken action,” Littlefield said in an email.

Littlefield said LePage is not opposed to raising the minimum wage – even though he vetoed a bill last year that would have done exactly that. Instead, LePage would rather create more career jobs with better pay, he said.

Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:rbillings@pressherald.comTwitter: @randybillings