RICHMOND — Candidates for state office at Wednesday’s forum at Enterprise Grange 48 agreed there are serious flaws in core institutions such as health care, education and business; but the candidates, like the people they hope to represent, are divided on the best approach to correct those flaws.

All seven candidates for offices representing Richmond appeared at the forum, which includes House Districts 53 and 55 and Senate District 23. The forum opened with each candidate given six minutes to introduce themselves to the assembled crowd of roughly two dozen people and describe the issues most important to them.

The three candidates for Senate District 23 — incumbent Eloise Vitelli, D-Arrowsic; Alice Knapp, Green-Richmond; and Linda Baker, R-Topsham, each assured the crowd that they would choose from a strong list of candidates before explaining their convictions of policy.

Baker, a retired public school English teacher who continues to teach English in adult education, said she is concerned about the rate at which Maine loses its high school graduates and retirees.

“The people who are of retirement age and our youth are seeing a need to leave our state,” Baker said. “That just breaks my heart.”

Baker advocated for a multi-layered approach that included making college more affordable and tweaking the tax structure to ease the burden on retirees. Baker, like many of the other candidates, said the state needs to continue welfare reform.

“I think it should not be a career to be on social service rolls,” she said.

Knapp, a former environmental lawyer and health insurance regulator, said the state’s health care system is beyond fixing. Knapp, who advocates for a single-payer national health care system, said expanding Mainecare would only exacerbate the problem.

“Health care is a disaster,” she said “It’s still a disaster under Obamacare.”

Knapp said the lawmakers have made too many laws that are impractical. She vowed to talk to people to craft laws that are “grounded in reality.” Knapp said her position as a Green Party independent would help meet that goal.

“Republicans have legitimate points and Democrats have legitimate points, but they can’t acknowledge it,” Knapp said. “

Knapp also would seek to change the property assessments that call for a property to be taxed at the potential best use.

“The highest and best use is the use of the person who lives there,” she said.

Vitelli, a former preschool teacher, listed some of her accomplishments as the incumbent representative in Augusta, such as helping create public preschools statewide, forwarding a bond to support small business and helping pass legislation to create a greater role for solar power.

Vitelli said she was most proud of creating a small business training program that has helped 3,000 people get into the workforce over the past 25 years.

“Small businesses are the core of our state economy,” she said. “We need to continue to support them any way we can.”

The candidates for House District 53, incumbent Peter Kent, D-Woolwich, and Jeffrey Pierce, R-Dresden, are both builders who voiced support for small business.

Kent said he ran for office at the encouragement of others when he lost out on two construction bids.

“It became my next creative project,” Kent said.

He went to Augusta hoping to find a common vision toward which everyone was working. He was disappointed to learn no such vision existed.

“I really did not find there was a vision we were all operating toward,” he said. “After six years, I still don’t think we’re operating toward a vision.”

Kent said the vision should revolve around education; security, including job, health and economic security; and getting outside influence out of government. He said lawmakers must agree to build an economy that provides good-paying jobs.

“We don’t want a big-box store economy,” he said.

Pierce said the state must learn to rein in its spending, just as he has to do with his business.

“I know how to balance a checkbook,” he said. “That’s very important, because every one of you have to balance your checkbooks. The state should do the same.”

Pierce decried the recent trend in education to eliminate life and career training, such as home economics and industrial arts. He said many young people no longer know how to prepare healthful meals, and high-paying jobs available in Maine are going unfilled because the companies cannot find skilled people to fill them.

“Not everyone is going to go to college,” he said. “Our public schools are failing us. There are a lot of good teachers out there, but the way we’re approaching education has failed.”

Pierce, too, urged welfare reform to make sure it goes only to those who are most needy.

“There are tough decisions,” he said.”We can’t fund everything.”

Pierce urged the state to look at expanding renewable and reliable hydro electricity generation. He said new technology allows fish to pass up and down stream, which he said is vital to Maine’s economy.

“My wallet is on my left. My heart is on my right,” Pierce said. “We all better meet in the middle.”

The candidates for House District 55, Alice Elliott, D-Richmond, and Brian Hobart, R-Bowdoinham, both said they think they have professional and civic experience that would prove valuable as legislators.

Elliott, whose family owned a small hardware store in western Maine, said she put herself through college and has held jobs that help bring diverse groups together. She works at Colby College in civic engagement, which works to get students, faculty and the community together to solve problems. Elliott said she has worked with people, including Gov. Paul LePage, all over the state.

“I think these have given me really excellent skills that will make me a good legislator,” she said.

Elliott echoed concerns about good paying jobs, affordable healthcare and quality schools.

“Small business is Maine’s economic engine,” she said. “We need to do more for small businesses.”

Hobart, who has spent a combined 20 years in municipal work as a public works director and selectman, said towns are feeling the stress of the state’s failure to live up to its revenue sharing commitment.

Hobart spent four years in the Air Force and is a commercial pilot and flight instructor. He works as a hay farmer.

Hobart said he has strong connections to all three towns in the district, including Bowdoin, Bowdoinham and Richmond.

“I’m aware of the people and the issues,” he said. “I have a lot of experience in solving problems, and I feel I can do the job.”

Craig Crosby — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @CraigCrosby4

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