Thursday, August 31, 2006

West End Politics
Senate Race Heats Up

In the first campaign forum of the political season, the three candidates for Portland’s primary state senate seat fielded a flurry of questions, while some of their supporters tried to frame the debate in terms that would present their opponents in a negative light.

Ethan Strimling, the incumbent, Republican David Babin, and Green Independent Kelsey Perchinski answered questions about healthcare, taxes, the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR), the environment, and education.

Babin defended his support for the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (see related story) which Strimling opposes and vowed to fight against. Perchinski also opposes TABOR, saying “there has to be a better way.”

Strimling called for a more fair tax system in which those who could afford it would pay more and those with lower incomes would pay less. He said that there were “way too many sales tax exemptions.”

Babin said that “the last thing we need to do is raise taxes.” He said there should be no tax at all for anyone earning under $28,000 a year, and that there was enough revenue-it just needed to be spent more wisely.

Perchinski said that the main issues she would focus on would be affordable healthcare, housing, the minimum wage, and promoting alternative fuel sources such as solar panels.

Perchinski and Strimling both expressed support for the state’s Dirigo health plan, which Babin opposes, saying that government regulation has driven private insurance companies out of the state. He said he was supportive of the choice of options that private health care insurers would provide. (In his 2002 Senate campaign, in response to a healthcare-related issue, Strimling was quoted as saying that the government shouldn’t be in the health care business.)

Corey Hascall, Strimling’s former campaign manager, who is currently listed as the moderator of Fighting for Portland, Strimling’s campaign organization, referred to Babin’s “anti-choice, and anti-civil rights” positions and asked Perchinski why she would align herself with the conservative Republican. Perchinski volunteered with Babin’s 2004 campaign as his campaign manager and website designer. The two were employed at the time at Goodwill Industries, where Babin still works. Perchinski is the program manager at WMPG, the local radio station. She says that she joined the Babin campaign because she did not want to see Strimling run unopposed. Her current campaign platform is radically different than the one that Babin has put forward, including opposition to the Taxpayer Bill of Rights.

Jon Hinck, the Democrat who is running against West End Representative John Eder, referred to Republican national economic policies such as ‘supply-side economics’ and asked the candidates if they supported those policies. (Many of the attendees at the forum were probably still in diapers when the Reagan administration introduced ‘supply-side economics’ in the early 1980s.)

Babin responded to Hinck by saying that he (Babin) was a Republican, but that people should “think locally”. He called Maine’s economy “a mess”, which he blamed on the policies of Maine Democrats. Strimling said he did not support the national Republican economic policies of the last 30 years.

When asked about their weaknesses as candidates, Babin said that he would probably work too hard if elected to the office. Strimling said that he probably submitted too many bills in the last legislative session, and it would have been better if he had focused on fewer. Perchinski said her weakness might be not being familiar enough with some of the lesser issues in the campaign.


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