BREWER — The Republican hopefuls for the party’s 2nd Congressional District nomination oppose a national park in Maine’s North Woods and support, yet are somewhat wary of, a private plan to build an East-West highway through the heart of the state.
But Kevin Raye and Bruce Poliquin, who squared off at a Wednesday morning debate at Jeff’s Catering in Brewer hosted by the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce and the Bangor Daily News, don’t agree on everything.
The two offered up familiar distinctions they’ve made race-long before a business- and political-class audience.
Raye, a former Maine Senate president from Perry, in Washington County, made clear in an opening statement that he has lived and worked in the district nearly all of his life, a dig at Poliquin, a former state treasurer from Oakland who moved to the district ahead of his run.
But Poliquin hit back, criticizing Raye for not taking a pledge he has taken to hold the line on taxes. As the debate was about to end, Poliquin segued abruptly from answering a question on energy policy to tell the audience he was anti-abortion, unlike Raye.
Poliquin also took the anti-tax pledge, put to political candidates by Americans for Tax Reform, a conservative group led by activist Grover Norquist, in 2012.
He called Raye’s not signing the pledge “a mistake” in the face of a $17-trillion national debt.
“We don’t have a revenue problem,” Poliquin said. “We have a huge spending problem.”
But Raye noted his record as a tax-cutter, having helped shepherd through an income tax-cut package in 2011 that reduced taxes on the wealthy and middle-class, but also eliminated liability for about 70,000 low-income Mainers.
He said while he doesn’t see a situation where the government would need to raise taxes, the country can’t predict a future crisis, such as war, that would require drastic government solutions.
“I think to have taken such a pledge is, frankly, not in the best interest of our country,” Raye said.
But the two agreed on the park and highway issues, which have both faced fierce opposition in rural Maine and may never happen.
There is no formal park plan before Congress, but environmentalist Roxanne Quimby has proposed to donate 70,000 acres of land around Millinocket and $20 million to maintain it to the federal government for a park.
Raye and Poliquin cited its potential impact on the region’s forest economy and local opposition to the project as reasons they oppose it.
East Millinocket voters rejected a feasibility study of the park by a 4-1 margin in 2011, the same year Millinocket’s town council voted unanimously against a park because of concerns about its impact on the paper industry.
“When the federal government establishes a toehold in an area, I can guarantee it will only grow,” Raye said.
The highway idea has been floated by Peter Vigue, the CEO of Pittsfield-based Cianbro Corp., an engineering and construction company. It would be a $2 billion, 220-mile link between New Brunswick and Quebec via Washington, Penobscot, Piscataquis, Somerset and Franklin counties.
Both candidates said they appreciate the economic boon it could be to Maine, but it shouldn’t be done in the face of withering opposition at the grassroots level.
“We clearly need to improve infrastructure in the state of Maine, but I would want to first see how this east-west corridor would benefit families in the 2nd District,” Poliquin said.
The two candidates also differed slightly on energy policy, with Poliquin saying the nation’s domestic oil and natural gas industry should be fully developed and emphasized.
Raye said while diversity is needed in the energy market, government can’t subsidize cleaner sources like solar power and wind in perpetuity.
Rep. Brian Duprey, R-Hampden, sitting debate-long at a front-row table, hasn’t endorsed anyone in the race and said he probably won’t, as a matter of personal policy in a primary.
Still, afterward, he said he was still undecided.
“I’ve been impressed with both candidates,” Duprey said. “I think both of them would do an excellent job.”