AUGUSTA — Candidates for the Legislature expressed support Tuesday for programs that would help Mainers get the education and skills they need to get better jobs so they are better able to support themselves and their families.

Ten candidates, all but two of them Democrats, spoke on issues including job training, early childhood education and the environment at a candidates forum in the parish hall at St. Augustine Church hosted by an coalition of religious and labor organizations.

All candidates expressed support, of varying degrees, for state programs that help poor Mainers enroll in educational programs that lead to a degree or employment credential in a field where workers are in high demand, including the Maine Department of Labor’s Competitive Skills Scholarship Program.

Shenna Bellows, of Manchester, the Democratic candidate in Senate District 14, said her mother worked in a greenhouse for 20 years before she went to school to become a registered nurse, which provided her with a pathway to greater economic stability.

“Supporting people in Maine who work hard, have worked hard their whole lives, but are not getting anywhere for it, that’s how we build an economy for Maine,” she said.

Her opponent, Republican Bryan Cutchen, of West Gardiner, said he supports the current program but does not think now is the time to expand it, because of a low unemployment rate. He said he has heard from contractors and others that they can’t find employees or even potential trainees.

“I support the program. It’s a good program, but expanding it? Maybe later,” Cutchen said. ” Unemployment is the lowest it has been in 15 years. There is opportunity out there. At the Maine Turnpike Authority, we can’t find enough toll collectors, at $19 an hour for entry-level jobs at the York toll plaza.”

Other participants included Democratic Sen. Christopher Johnson, who is seeking to retain his District 13 seat; Democrat John Glowa, who is running for House District 79; Wendy Ross, a Democrat seeking the House District 87 seat; Rep. Henry Beck, a Democratic candidate in Senate District 16; Alan Tibbetts, a Democratic candidate for House District 77; Democratic Rep. Cathy Nadeau, incumbent candidate in House District 78; Colleen Madigan, Democratic candidate in House District 110; Rep. Matthew Pouliot, a Republican who is running uncontested in House District 86; and the lone nonlegislative candidate to attend, Ryan Reardon, a Democratic candidate for Kennebec County sheriff.

Reardon said he supports the Competitive Skills Scholarship Program both because it helps people get the skills to get better jobs and better provide for their families, and because two of the jobs it provides training for are police officers and corrections officers, positions he said have become hard to fill.

“I advertise for corrections officers all the time. It’s a good, honest job,” Reardon said. “People need a hand up, a pathway out of poverty.”

The Kennebec Valley Organization, founded in 2005, is a coalition of churches, labor groups, faith-based institutions and community leaders that, according to organizers, advocate for social and economic justice at the local and state levels.

Candidates were asked questions specifically about Head Start, adult education, transportation, early childhood education and whether candidates would support legislation to fund education programs that could boost the state’s water testing rate.

The Rev. Frank Morin, pastor of St. Augustine and vice president of the Kennebec Valley Organization, said the questions asked of candidates were formed following discussions of group member about issues that concerned them.

About 30 people attended the forum.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.