BRUNSWICK – U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree and Maine Senate majority leader Jon Courtney showed their sharp policy differences but remained cordial Thursday during the first of three debates in their race for Maine’s 1st Congressional District seat.

Pingree, a Democrat from North Haven, is seeking her third term in the House. Courtney, a Republican from Springvale, faces an uphill fight against an opponent who has a large fundraising advantage and has led in the polls from the beginning.

The biggest disparities between Pingree and Courtney during Thursday’s hour-long debate were on health care, education and military spending.

Pingree said she supported the Affordable Care Act as a compromise but thinks the country would be better off with a single-payer universal health care system. Courtney said the Affordable Care Act should be replaced with a more market-driven approach.

On education, Pingree said she opposes school choice and vouchers because it’s too big a step toward privatizing education. “We need to fund our public schools,” she said.

Courtney said school choice represents a great opportunity for Maine, not just for wealthy families who can afford to send their kids anywhere but for low- and middle-class families who want more options but can’t pay for them.


Courtney, who mostly resisted attacking Pingree, said he didn’t understand how she could support military troops but not vote to authorize a defense budget.

Pingree countered that she has opposed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and doesn’t think money should be spent there. She said she does vote for every bill that provides services to returning veterans.

The debate at Bowdoin College’s Studzinski Hall was hosted by the Maine Public Broadcasting Network and moderated by Jennifer Rooks. It featured a variety of formats, including a short exchange in which each candidate had a chance to ask their opponent a question.

Courtney went first. His question prompted a light moment.

“What’s your favorite newspaper?” he asked, referring to the fact that Pingree’s husband, S. Donald Sussman, is the majority owner of MaineToday Media, which publishes the Portland Press Herald.

“I’m kind of partial to the VillageSoup,” Pingree said, referring to the weekly newspaper group near her hometown.


When it was Pingree’s turn, she asked Courtney why he supported efforts to ban same-day voter registration in Maine.

Courtney said he thought it made sense to give election clerks more time. Ultimately, he said, the voters decided that they wanted to keep it and he moved on.

“That’s what you need to do sometimes,” he said.

Toward the end of the debate, the candidates were asked a series of lightning-round questions that demonstrated more differences on issues.

Pingree supports same-sex marriage. Courtney does not. Pingree said Roe v. Wade is the law and should not be changed. Courtney said abortion should be illegal except in cases of rape, incest or when the mother’s life is at stake.

Pingree said she would support legalizing medical marijuana at the federal level. Courtney said it should be left to the states to decide.


In closing, Courtney said he’s running because Washington is broken.

“We need leaders that are not going to blame Republicans or blame Democrats but take responsibility and work hard to find solutions,” he said. “(In the Legislature) I made friends on the other side of the aisle and I found that I always learned more from someone who I disagreed with.”

Pingree, in her closing, thanked Courtney for running a positive campaign. She said her four years in Congress have been a “tremendous experience” and she wants to continue representing Maine.

Staff Writer Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

Twitter: @PPHEricRussell


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