Four local legislative candidates gathered for a public forum at Union Hall  Oct. 3, where they answered questions ranging from whether they favored offshore drilling to what they think of the Tea Party movement.

Searsport resident Anne Crimaudo moderated the event, which drew 38 people. The forum was also broadcast on the local television channel in Searsport, and will be rebroadcast between now and Election Day.

In attendance for the forum were House District 41 candidates Veronica Magnan (D-Stockton Springs) and James Gillway (R-Searsport). House District 41 is comprised of Frankfort, Prospect, Searsport and Stockton Springs, as well as the Hancock County towns of Orland and Verona Island. Magnan is the incumbent, having served one term in Augusta.

Also attending the Sunday afternoon forum were State Senate District 23 candidates Mike Thibodeau (R-Winterport) and John Piotti (D-Unity). Senate District 23 covers all of Waldo County. Incumbent Senator Carol Weston (R-Montville) was barred from running again by term limits, and both Thibodeau and Piotti have served multiple terms in the House.

Budget solutions, without passing the buck

With projected large budget shortfalls looming, candidates were asked where they favored making cuts or other changes to the budget without passing costs on to towns (as some argue was done when the Legislature cut revenue-sharing and other programs).

Thibodeau said the state is involved in a lot of “nice programs” — he offered Efficiency Maine as an example — but that it should focus on those programs that are the “absolute functions of state government.”

Piotti said legislators “haven’t been doing cuts the right way,” and that they should focus on departments with the largest budgets. He offered the departments of Health and Human Services, Education and Transportation as examples.

Gillway said everything should be kept on the table when considering cuts, and emphatically stated costs should not be passed on to towns by the state.

“We need to solve the problems in Augusta in Augusta, not in the towns,” he said.

Magnan also pointed to DHHS and DOE as the biggest pieces of the budget, but said she felt previous cuts at DHHS had already brought that agency’s budget “down to really the bare bones.” She expressed hope that revenue projections would soon start to increase.

Later, candidates were asked specifically for their thoughts on the revenue-sharing cuts made in the last state budget. Gillway, the town manager in Searsport, said they weren’t fair, and that the result in Searsport was that tax bills went up, even as the municipal budget went down.

Magnan acknowledged the cuts were “dismaying” and “discouraging,” but said they were a reality and that other cuts had been made as well. She said restorations of cuts that were made should be made proportionally — evenly and equally.

Piotti said revenue-sharing was reduced not only in an effort to balance the budget, but also because there was less revenue coming into the state coffers. He also said revenue-sharing cuts were not popular, even among the people who built the budget — “130 members of the Legislature voted for that budget, holding our noses,” he said.

“I’d suggest to you that with different people [in the Legislature], we’d have a different outcome [on the revenue-sharing issue],” said Thibodeau.

Party platforms

Candidates were asked whether they supported every piece of their party’s platform. Gillway said he didn’t see how any “reasonable person” could support absolutely everything in a platform, and said he instead saw it as a “jumping-off point,” rather than “something to be chained to.”

Magnan described a party platform as an ideal, and said what legislators actually did in terms of legislation was far more important.

Piotti said he had attended one Democratic state convention in the past, and that he had never read the state Democratic platform.

“I don’t know what’s on it,” he said. “I assume I agree with, and that I’m aligned with, much of it.”

Thibodeau said he was on the Republican platform committee this year, but made reference to the sweeping changes that were made to that platform at the convention and said the final product was very different from what the platform committee had come up with.

“I haven’t read what was adopted for our platform,” he said.

Offshore drilling in the Gulf of Maine

Candidates were asked if they supported offshore drilling in the Gulf of Maine, and Piotti answered first with a “no.” He said he felt such activity would have a negative impact on both fishing and tourism, and he said the focus should be on alternative energy.

Thibodeau said he presumed such drilling would be done for natural gas, rather than oil. The former has been done successfully so far in Nova Scotia, he said. He predicted, however, that “other ways will come before us that will be far more effective at reducing our energy costs.”

Magnan said she was not in favor of drilling, and thought the Gulf of Maine held much more potential with regard to wind energy. Gillway said energy choices should be made using “proven science,” and that while there was much talk of alternative energy, it might have negative consequences.

“Tourists come to Maine for the viewsheds,” he said. “Filling [those viewsheds] up with windmills would be discouraging that.”

Buy American vs. going global

The port at Mack Point was approved for federal funding to buy a large harbor crane that would allow for increased traffic at the port. That funding, however, is on hold due to a “Buy American” stipulation — the type of crane that is needed is only manufactured overseas. Candidates were asked if they supported “going global” in order to get the crane.

Piotti said that it was a good idea to try to buy American products when possible, but that if a “Buy American” requirement was holding up economic development, the bigger picture should be considered. Thibodeau said he agreed with that position, and stressed prioritizing American products whenever possible.

“We need the jobs as bad as anyone else,” he said.

Magnan said she would support going global, if that wa what it took to get the crane, but wondered why someone in America wasn’t producing that kind of crane.

Gillway said that it was nice to support America, but there was also a need to be flexible. He related his own experience of having spent time in Iraq training police forces, and initially traveling in Nissan vehicles that blended in well while traveling among the local population.

Then he said a requirement was put in place that Gillway and those he was working with had to use American-made vehicles.

“They gave us big GMCs, and we started getting blown up,” he said.

Thoughts on the Tea Party

Crimaudo, who was presenting questions that had been submitted by audience members, paused before reading one question and said she didn’t even know if she should ask it. She did ask it, however — what did the candidates think about the Tea Party movement?

“I love tea,” said Magnan. “I drink it most every evening.”

She went on to describe the Tea Party as a “phenomenon,” one that is both “idealistic” and “driven.” She expressed concern that certain issues and proposals put forth by Tea Partiers were not being fully thought-out, however, which she said was problematic.

“Big cuts may sound good, but they are not necessarily the best possible approach,” said Magnan.

Gillway disagreed with Magnan’s characterization of the Tea Party as a phenomenon. He said that although he isn’t a Tea Party member and he doesn’t necessarily see himself as aligned with the movement, he applauds them for their efforts.

“They’ll try to effect change,” he said, “and they’re effective at doing it.”

Piotti said that while he welcomed anyone who wanted to get involved in the democratic process, he agreed with Magnan’s concerns about potential problems with the Tea Party’s approach.

“Movements [such as the Tea Party] tend to oversimplify,” said Piotti. But he closed by saying he had “no problem with anyone expressing their opinions,” because that is “good for democracy.”

Thibodeau referred to the acronym associated with the Tea Party moniker — Taxed Enough Already — and said he wasn’t so sure that was a “right-wing thought process.” He said he supported the “taxed enough already” concept.

“I think we’re taxed plenty already,” he said. “Maybe too much, in some cases.”