WESTBROOK — The two candidates for the seat representing Maine’s 1st Congressional District clashed Tuesday night on immigration, health insurance and their parties’ respective presidential nominees during their final debate before Election Day.

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat, and Republican challenger Mark Holbrook engaged in a spirited but mostly civil debate during the hourlong discussion hosted by WMTW-TV at the Westbrook Performing Arts Center.

Pingree played up her willingness to work with colleagues from both parties on issues from farm policy to congressional budgeting as she made her pitch for a fifth two-year term in Congress. Holbrook, meanwhile, emphasized his standing as an outsider to the political “ruling class” and laid out a much more conservative vision on issues such as immigration and drug policy.

One of the biggest clashes came in response to a viewer’s question about whether Maine should embrace or “chase away” skilled immigrants who want to come to Maine as refugees, given the wave of baby boomer retirements and a shortage of skilled labor.

“The idea that we are going to import non-Americans to in some way stimulate our labor force lacks any sort of rationale or reasoning to it,” said Holbrook, a former police officer who now counsels law enforcement personnel, veterans and families at his psychology practice in Brunswick. “What we need to do is create good jobs to keep people here.”

Pingree responded by pointing out that she is the grandchild of immigrants and called it “misguided to think that isn’t the pathway for engaging new citizens.” Many of the refugees and asylum seekers arriving in Maine have advanced degrees, but she said it is not an “either-or” situation of creating jobs for immigrants or native Mainers.


“It’s a fact and comes from the chamber of commerce in the state of Maine that, unfortunately, we don’t have a workforce looking ahead because we are not having children in this state as fast as people are dying,” Pingree said. “And we can’t discount all immigrants, all refugees, all asylum seekers.”

That prompted a back-and-forth between the two candidates about refugee policy, as Holbrook said it would be more “humane” to help people staying in their own countries. Pingree said she agreed but added it is important to create a welcoming environment for those who do arrive.

Holbrook also called refugees coming into the U.S. from war-torn countries such as Syria a “Trojan horse” for potential extremists and said an insecure U.S.-Mexico border is the greatest national security threat to the country.

On the issue of health insurance, Pingree said she would support switching to a single-payer system and criticized congressional Republicans for holding more than 60 votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act with no replacement. Holbrook criticized Pingree’s support of “socialized medicine” and called for repealing Obamacare, although he said he supports allowing coverage of dependents up to age 26 and preventing insurance companies from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions.

Not surprisingly, the two had starkly different takes on their parties’ presidential nominees.

Pingree said she is not troubled by the latest email controversy involving Hillary Clinton, adding that the FBI director’s decision to publicize the inquiry was a “terrible way to upend an election so close to the vote.”


“I do trust Hillary Clinton. I think she is by far the most experienced, the most knowledgeable candidate we have ever had running for president, male or female,” said Pingree, a longtime Clinton supporter.

Holbrook repeated Donald Trump’s favorite lines that Clinton is a criminal who should be in jail. And although he said his candidate has a “potty mouth,” Holbrook is backing Trump.

“On one hand we have a successful billionaire and on the other hand we have a member of the Clinton crime family,” Holbrook said. “I am going to go with the successful billionaire. Do I like everything that Mr. Trump has said? No.”

The two candidates disagreed on all five of the major ballot questions facing voters Nov. 8, with Pingree supporting all five and Holbrook opposed.

Holbrook’s campaign has struggled for traction in an election year when the 2nd District rematch between Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin and Democrat Emily Cain has broken records for spending on a House race in Maine. A recent Portland Press Herald poll of 1st District voters showed Pingree leading Holbrook, 59 percent to 24 percent.


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