CHINA — The five Democratic candidates for governor who turned out for a forum Wednesday night at South China Community Church agreed on many issues — the need for good paying jobs and affordable health care, high quality public schools, services for the elderly, working to help keep young people in Maine and the need for renewable energy.

Beyond that, the candidates, vying for the Democratic nomination in the June primary, said that if elected governor, they would listen to Mainers and address their needs.

About 50 people attended the 6 p.m. forum hosted by the China Democratic Committee, which members said emerged from this year’s caucus as a community group motivated to develop local representation and re-energize civil engagement in politics.

Gubernatorial candidates Adam Cote, Mark Dion, Mark Eves, Diane Russell and Betsy Sweet spoke at the event, as did China residents John Glowa and Kellie Julia, both Democrats who are running for state Sen. District 15, and Dawn Castner, a Democrat running for state House District 79.

China Democratic Committee Chairman Mark Brunton hosted the evening and Steven Keaten posed questions offered up by the audience.

In opening statements, Sweet, of Hallowell, said many people feel government is no longer a force for good — that for the last eight years, politicians have gotten very good at saying “no” and now people are excited and energized to move forward and say “yes.”

“We have the moment to take our government back,” Sweet, a clean election candidate, said.

People, she said, are ready to say “yes” to a single-payer health care system, gun safety laws, jobs that pay well, increasing the minimum wage and cleaning up the environment. While she has not held elected office before, Sweet said that she helped write the first clean election act in Maine and in the country.

Russell, of Portland, said she helped to get marijuana legalized and ranked choice voting on the ballot, and that a new trend in politics is occurring.

“At the end of the day, we need politicians who are going to support the will of the people,” she said.

If elected governor, she said she wants to create the first single-payer health care system in the country. An economic security bill that would include paid family leave with paid sick days also is a priority, she said. Russell, who served four terms in the state House of Representatives, said Maine also needs to be looking at state public banks.

“I am the one that charts the big picture ideas that everyone says is impossible,” she said.

Eves served in the state Legislature eight years, four as speaker of the House, and was elected to that position by his peers, he said.

Trained as a family therapist, he said he served most of his practice going to people’s homes, knocking on doors in rural York County, never knowing what was on the other side of the door. He said he never gave up on people.

“I sat around kitchen tables and in living rooms and we’d talk, day after day after day until we figured it out,” he said.

Eves, of North Berwick, said he did the same when he was in the House. While a candidate, he knocked on 3,000 doors and engaged with people at a time when the economy was crashing, people were losing their homes and jobs and gas prices were up, he said. He said he wants his three children to choose to stay in Maine, which is turning a corner. Maine needs a family therapist after eight years of the current administration, he said.

“I’d be honored to earn your vote.”

Cote, of Sanford, said he has spent most of his career in renewable energy and was recognized by President Barack Obama for his work on climate change and clean energy. Like Eves, Cote said he is raising a family and sees young people moving out of the state. They want to stay in Maine, but the opportunities are not here.

“The vast parts of the state, you can’t have both,” he said.

Cote, a veteran, said he has a unique perspective, having been raised in Maine yet having traveled around the world. He said there is enormous opportunity in Maine, which should have the best public schools and which should treat opioid addiction as a chronic illness and addiction. The state also needs better health care and broadband, according to Cote.

Dion, of Portland, a former sheriff and 8-year legislator, said his No. 1 mission is to protect Maine’s most important resource — the elderly. Dion walked into the audience of the church to address Bartholomew A. Furmanik, 98, of China.

“I can’t hear a word you said,” Furmanik, who was sitting with his daughter, Helen Roy, said.

Furmanik began to talk about farming and the necessity for cement bunkers to hold manure.

“We do that in Augusta. We create a lot of manure but not cement bunkers,” Dion said, to laughter from the room.

Furmanik was escorted to the front of the room, where he could better hear the candidates. Dion said Maine must develop an elder care system. Health care facilities, he said, are understaffed and employees underpaid. State employees also have been ignored when it comes to pay, according to Dion.

“We don’t pay them what they’re worth and we don’t say ‘Thank you,'” he said.

Democratic gubernatorial candidates Janet Mills and Donna Dion did not attend.

TOUTING THEIR PLATFORMS

China is a rural community and largely Republican, Keaten told gubernatorial candidates. He asked what message the candidates would send to residents about why they should vote Democratic.

Dion said to tell them that voting Democratic is in the best interest of working people.

“We care about them and we’ll go to the wall for them,” Dion said. “That’s what you tell them — period.”

Sweet said that, when she travels around the state, people she meets say politicians do not listen to them about issues including high taxes and they’re afraid they are going to lose their health insurance.

“They want us to care that they are having a hard time making it,” Sweet said.

Cote said Sanford used to be a solid Democratic town, but it has voted twice for Gov. Paul LePage, and it voted for President Donald Trump. Democratic party policies focus on helping people, he said, and Democrats need to spend time talking to people in diners and other venues to tout Democratic values

“I think what we need to demonstrate in the Democratic party is we know how to govern and we care about people,” Cote said.

Russell said she thinks the Democrats have a “brand problem” in that the party does not have a clear message that people can grasp.

“People don’t know what we stand for as Democrats and that’s a real issue,” she said.

Talking about issues that face working class people resonates with Mainers who, for instance, are working two jobs but can’t find time to spend with family, according to Russell.

“Let’s focus on the real issues, which is economic security of people,” she said.

Eves said Democrats do have a challenge and it is about building trust again. It is important, he said, to talk with folks in rural areas and instead of pointing fingers, ask questions, build trust and follow through.

“We can’t just talk about how we’re better — we have to do more,” he said.

Eves said he thinks people are voting in this election for the “authenticity piece,” which includes Medicare expansion, raising the minimum wage and supporting public schools.

“We need to stop, after this primary, running to the middle and being what we’re not,” Eves said.

Keaten asked the candidates if they support sustainable, renewable energy and what they would do to ensure it is developed in Maine.

Sweet said she is “100 percent committed” to sustainable, renewable energy and her favorite technology is one from Denmark which includes 20-foot pods with paddles on their sides that float in the water.

“One of those can power 4,000 homes,” she said.

Cote said Maine has some of the brightest environmentalists and he wants to see technologies developed here.

“I think if we just had the right leadership and the right focus, we can do that,” he said.

Russell said renewable energy is really important and she wants to focus on weatherization. She said she helped lead a program on weatherization and the state needs to get back to it. If oil prices spike again, older people should not be cold in their homes, according to Russell.

Eves said Maine has the “Saudi Arabia of wind power in our Gulf of Maine,” as well as solar capability. All the candidates agree with renewable, sustainable energy, according to Eves.

“We are ready to go on Day One of leadership; yes, we are ready to support it,” he said.

Dion said “all of this is possible, but the ‘downer’ is that someone has to pay for it.

“Ratepayers — that’s you,” he said.

Asked how they propose to entice businesses to Maine, help small businesses stay here and try to help keep young people in the state, the candidates cited various needs such as broadband, support for farming, creating a more welcoming environment, addressing student debt and ensuring that jobs for young people pay well. All said they support single-payer health care in Maine.

SENATE, HOUSE CANDIDATES

Castner, the candidate for House District 79, said she is a clean election candidate and a teacher. Her candidacy focuses on quality of education for all children, availability of jobs that pay a living wage, affordable insurance and reasonable taxes.

She said children deserve the best education possible, employees need a living wage and employees and seniors on a fixed income need affordable housing and reasonable taxes.

“The future is an open book,” Castner said. “I would call it, ‘What is Yet to Come,’ authored by all of us.”

Julia is a former public school educator who previously worked for child development services, focusing on behavior modification. She said she wants to help keep young people — and businesses — in Maine.

“We have a small business — we’ve had small businesses since 1996, but keeping a small business going is hard,” Julia said.

Glowa, the candidate for Senate District 15, said he worked for the state Department of Environmental Protection nearly 30 years, trying to protect the environment, and for the last five or six years he worked under the current administration, he was given no work to do about 90 percent of the time.

“Our government is broken — it is in shambles,” he said.

The next governor and legislature should triage state government, look at every rule, commission and board and see what is working and what is not, include state employees in the process of governing and recall officials when they fail to act.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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