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Maine's Three Leading U.S. Senate Candidates Square off in Debate
10/09/2012   Reported By: Susan Sharon

For the first time in several weeks, the three leading candidates in the race for Maine's open U.S. Senate seat squared off in a debate, this time focusing on taxes, spending, the role of government and negative campaign advertising. Republican Charlie Summers was the only candidate to oppose a constitutitional amendment to limit the effects of the controversial Supreme Court case known as Citizens' United. And as Susan Sharon reports, Democrat Cynthia Dill was the only candidate to oppose a balanced budget amendment.

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In the hour-long debate moderated by Chris Hall of the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce, Republican Charlie Summers took heat from both of his opponents for signing conservative activist Grover Norquist's no-tax pledge. Former Independent Governor Angus King says anyone who signed that pledge can't reasonably enter the discussion in Washington.

"Because everybody knows there have to be additional revenues, and to have people in the Congress who have signed that pledge - and by the way, I think your pledge ought to be to the people of Maine, not some guy in Washington who's never run for anything and never run anything," King said. "I mean, I think this is a very significant issue in this campaign. I'm not for taxes but I am for paying our bills and I am for not leaving a debt to our children. That's just plain wrong."

King says current federal revenues will only cover defense spending, Social Security, Medicare, interest on the debt and about half of Medicaid. That means programs such as food stamps, energy assistance, veterans services, the farm bill and Head Start would have to be cut without additional revenue.

But Summers counters that King has a record of raising taxes and has campaigned on that theme. Summers says what the nation has is not a tax problem but a spending one, and he disagrees with King's approach.

"He wants to raise taxes on investments 130 percent," Summers said. "You do that and you'll discourage investment. You should not be raising taxes on anyone in this economy. That's the quickest way to send this economy further down the line."

Summers says he understands the country needs to raise revenue. The way to do it, he believes, is to keep taxes and the regulatory burden low. But while King and Summers disagree on taxes and spending, they both support a federal constitutional amendment to require a balanced budget every year, something championed by retiring Republican Maine Senator Olympia Snowe.

Democrat Cynthia Dill does not. She calls it "a gimmick."

"It puts an artificial cap on the ability of government to raise revenues and is irresponsible in my view," Dill said. "If we ever did, God forbid, have another war to fight and we had a balanced budget amendment we would not be able to raise the revenue necessary to fight the war, and that would mean we would make significant cuts to Social Security programs. This is not, in my view, a responsible way to go forward."

Dill is also the only candidate of the three who would vote to repeal Bush-era tax cuts for those earning $250,000 or more.

And when it comes to one of the more contentious issues in the race - outside spending from special interest groups and the barrage of negative advertisements that have dominated the airwaves since August - both Dill and King say they favor a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens' United. That's the Supreme Court decision that held that the First Amendment prohibits the government from restricting independent political expenditures by corporations and unions.

"It's a problem, but I think Maine people are smart enough to recognize that these outside groups, this outside money is not what we're about," Dill said.

"It really is corrosive and it's - I'm stumbling for words here because it's so bad. I think Citizens' United is the worst decision of the United States Supreme Court, certainly in my lifetime, and I think for probably for the past hundred years."

King acknowledges that he has been the beneficiary of some of the outside money spent on the race, more than $3 million so far. For his part, Summers says he would not move to limit Citizens' United because he sees it as limiting free speech. And while candidates may not be able to control outside money coming in, Summers says they can control the tone of their own ads.

"I think one of the most disappointing things about this process is Gov. King took a pledge to the state of Maine that he would not run one negative ad during this campaign. Yet he's the only one of the three of us standing up here running negative ads," Summers contended.

King says the ad, which points out contrasting views he has with Summers, is not negative, but basic campaigning. The candidates next appearance is a forum in Lewiston sponsored by the Androscoggin County Chamber of Commerce Wednesday morning.


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