WATERVILLE — A group of eight Democratic and two Independent legislative candidates participated in a forum Tuesday night that did not include any Republicans.

The forum, hosted by the Kennebec Valley Organization and moderated by Somerset County Administrator Dawn DiBlasi, touched on several topics, including health care, immigration and cultural inclusiveness, transportation funding, food insecurity and workforce development.

The Augusta-based KVO describes itself as a “regional faith- and values-based organization of religious congregations, union locals, community, and other volunteer member organizations” and was founded in 2005.

The participating candidates were incumbent Sen. Shenna Bellows, D-Manchester, who is running for re-election in Senate District 14; Karen Kusiak, the Democratic candidate for Senate District 16; Jan Collins, the Democratic candidate for Senate District 17; Lindsey Harwath, an Independent candidate for House District 79; incumbent Rep. Kent Ackley, I-Monmouth, who is running for re-election in House District 82; incumbent Rep. Donna Doore, D-Augusta, who is running for re-election in House District 85; John Clark, the Democratic candidate in House District 105; Aaron Rowden, the Democratic candidate in House District 108; incumbent Rep. Colleen Madigan, D-Waterville; and John Thiele, the Democratic candidate for House District 118.

The KVO’s lead organizer, Andi Parkinson, said all legislative candidates for Kennebec and Somerset counties were invited, regardless of party, and that several candidates had scheduling conflicts that included DARE training and a moose hunt.

“They had very legitimate reasons,” Parkinson said. “Nobody blew us off.”

Parkinson said a group of KVO members worked to develop the questions.

The first question Tuesday night covered health care, and whether the candidates “support Medicaid expansion” and “believe health care is a moral imperative and a human right.”

All of the participating candidates said they support expanding Medicaid in Maine and almost all expressly said they view health care as a moral imperative and human right.

Candidates also were asked about their “personal commitment to assisting new Mainers feel welcome, know that they have a place at the table and within our communities” and whether they would support a resolution in the Legislature to recognize various Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist holidays.

“We need to move beyond the idea that we are going to tolerate other cultures and other people, and we need to start to celebrate other cultures and other people,” Rowden said.

“There’s also the economic part, which is we need young people,” Ackley said.

On transportation, the candidates were asked for their position on L.D. 1248, a bill that would have provided funding toward transportation services for seniors and people with disabilities, which did not pass in this session.

Kusiak said she wasn’t familiar with all of the details on L.D. 1248, but she expressed interest in restoring passenger rail service to Augusta, Waterville and Bangor, saying that could “cut down on the need to use cars to get people long distances.”

Doore said she supported the measure in the Legislature and would do so again. She also supported the idea of expanded rail service and suggested some sort of “health care Uber” ride-sharing service to help take people to medical appointments.

Asked how to solve food insecurity in Maine, the candidates put forth a range of ideas including building networks of local producers to distribute excess food and the creation of a statewide online system to sign Maine students up for the school lunch program.

On the workforce revitalization and economic development front, candidates offered support for initiatives such as a statewide bond program for student loan forgiveness, the expansion of broadband internet access, bringing more flexibility to the Maine Department of Labor, and support for vocational education.

Matt Junker — 861-9253

[email protected]

Twitter: @mattjunker

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