Economy and healthcare in an aging state

Democratic gubernatorial candidates talk to voters at Belfast forum

Governor LePage will reach term limit at end of 2018
Thu, 05/24/2018 - 9:30pm

    BELFAST — Potential democratic gubernatorial candidates gathered before a crowd of approximately 100 at Belfast’s Hutchinson Center May 21, as Indivisible Waldo County hosted a panel so voters can familiarize themselves with their options ahead of the June 12 primaries.

    With current Governor Paul LePage set to leave the position when his term limit is reached in January, the position will be left open for whichever candidate can convince the majority of Mainers he or she is the best person for the job.

    The June primaries also mark the first time Maine will use the ranked-choice voting system. A sample ballot and brief explanation of the process was handed out at Monday’s panel.

    Questions for the panel were submitted by area residents prior to the event, with those selected ranging from tribal relations to Maine’s economy, though the first question asked of candidates was what they felt the top issue facing Maine is right now, and how they are “uniquely qualified” to handle said issue.

    The democratic candidates are almost as varied as their answers to Monday night’s questions.


    Janet Mills, 70, of Farmington, is Maine’s current attorney general and was previously a district attorney for Androscoggin, Franklin, and Oxford counties from 1980-1992. Mills was then elected to the Maine House of Representatives where she served from 2002-2008 when Maine lawmakers elected her to serve as attorney general. She won the post a second time in 2014 and continues to serve. Mills received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Massachusetts and a law degree from the University of Maine Law School.

    She said she thinks the biggest challenge facing Maine is to break down the barriers in our state.

    “There are emotional barriers, there are racial barriers, there are spiritual barriers, there is a deep sense of isolation out there. Not just in the rural all of our cities. There is a sense of alienation, people are alienated from their government and their local government. There is a lack of transparency, there’s a lack of trust. Growing up in Maine I feel like we can reinvent ourselves. The issue is bringing new Mainers into our society and welcoming them and enjoying their productivity and their part in our economy…. The issue is repairing the trust the people lack in their government,” Mills said in part.

    Mark Dion, 62, of Portland, was a police officer in Portland before being elected as Cumberland County Sheriff in 1998, a position he maintained until 2016. Dion has a bachelor’s degree in criminology from the University of Southern Maine, a masters degree from Antioch College, and a law degree from the University of Maine Law School. After being elected to the Maine Senate in 2010, he served three terms before being elected to the Maine Senate in 2016, where he continues to serve.

    When asked what he considers to be the biggest challenge facing Maine, Dion said he views Maine’s healthcare system and elderly population as the most serious issue.

    “We need to have a healthcare system that shifts care from hospitals to the home, increases contact with our elderly citizens because you can die from isolation. [A] disease is one thing, loss of contact is key to your survival and your own quality of life. That is the number one issue and I’ll do everything I can as governor to shift the focus of healthcare from hospitals and corporate medicines to practitioners in the community…,” he said in part.

    Donna Dion, 66, of Biddeford, served as the city’s mayor from 1997-2003 in addition to maintaining a position as chair of the School Committee. Dion spent 12 years working for Time Warner Cable and has also worked as the finance director for two non-profit organizations, Creative Work Systems, and Port Resources.

    For her part, Donna Dion said she views economic development as the top issue facing Maine, saying:

    “I think economic development takes many faces. If we do economic development by increasing broadband and getting more communication and having more businesses here. Looking at the tax exemptions we’re doing so that we turn it and use some of the tax exemptions that we might have for businesses that needed assistance and now revert [exemptions] to other businesses that can use it to expand. The intent is to give more revenue into our income so that we can start looking at the best ways to provide all of these other recommendations that we’re trying to do,” she said in part.

    Adam Cote, 44, of Sanford, is an attorney with Drummond Woodsum and has been a member of the National Guard for the last 20 years. A decorated combat veteran, Cote is also the co-founder and CEO of Thermal Energy Storage of Maine. He has also served on the Sanford School Committee and on the board of the Midcoast Regional Authority. Cote received his bachelor's degree from Colby College and a law degree from University of Maine School of Law.

    Cote said the biggest issue facing Maine right now is that [Maine is] last in New England and one of the last in the country on jobs, income, and economic growth.

    “Everywhere Governor LePage is talking about having a low unemployment rate….it’s largely because, as I said, we have the oldest population in the country and we’re not growing. We have not been able to come forward with a growth strategy for this state, investing in education, healthcare, the environment… we need to grow our economy. The way to do that in my mind is three things, the first is the infrastructures, with broadband being the most important. That affects education, it affects telemedicine, you can’t sell blueberries outside of Washington County if you don’t have an internet connection. Second, it’s workforce training. I have not been to a business or spoken to a labor union yet that is not having a problem with recruiting, retention, or attrition management…. Lastly, it’s focusing on our competitive advantage,” he said in part.  

    Betsy Sweet, 60, of Hallowell, is a longtime lobbyist who served as director of the Maine Women’s Lobby and the Maine Commission for Women. She currently heads Moose Ridge Associates, which is a lobbying firm in Augusta. Sweet has not previously held an elected office.

    The healthcare crisis was Betsy Sweet’s most pressing issue, with her saying:

    “I think we need single payer healthcare, I think we need it now, and I think we can’t wait for the federal government to do it. I think it definitely affects our economy, I think many people here, we are an entrepreneurial state, so many people don’t follow their passion and don’t go after the idea that they have….because they’re afraid of losing their healthcare so they stay in jobs they hate, that don’t inspire them. There are women who stay in relationships that aren’t safe because they’re afraid of losing their healthcare. It’s not just about healthcare, but that is what we have to do,” she said in part.

    Mark Eves, 40, of North Berwick, was elected to the Maine House of Representatives in 2008, where he served the maximum allowed, four terms. During the last two terms, from 2012-2016, he served as the House speaker. After earning a bachelor’s degree from the University of Louisville, Eves received his master’s degree from Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and currently works as a family therapist.  

    For Eves “the fact that Maine is the oldest state in the nation and 50 percent of our workforce will be eligible to retire in 10 years, and there is no strategy to address that,” is the top issue facing Maine.

    “This is about our economy and it’s about that 10 year [outlook] to how we’re going to address the fact that half of our workforce is retiring in 10 years…,” he said joking that even if Maine were to build a wall around the state to keep graduates from leaving the state, it would still not be enough to combat the issue. “That’s the dire situation we’re in right now and that's why we have to have a governor [who] is welcoming to immigrants....our economy will never grow, we will not be able to be prepared in 10 years if we do not make sure we are more welcoming in our state,” Eves said in part.

    Diane Russell, 41, of Portland, served the maximum four terms allowed in the Maine House of Representatives from 2008-2016 when she then ran unsuccessfully for a seat in the Maine Senate. Russell earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Southern Maine and currently works as a public relations consultant.

    Russell also chose the economy as the top issue facing Maine, saying:

    “We need a new deal for Maine, like right out of the great depression new deal. When we do better, the workers do better, we all do better. We have to be investing in our people, and that means yes, we need a single-payer healthcare system….We also need a right to good jobs, we need to think about these things as economic rights. We need the right to organize at work, we need the right to equal pay for equal work and to pay equity so that we do not have women dominated jobs making less than male-dominated jobs. We need the right to freedom from discrimination, freedom from sexual harassment, we need the right to a secure retirement…,” she said in part.

    For more information on each candidate visit: for information on Adam Cote. for information on Donna Dion. for information about Mark Dion. for information on Mark Eves. for more information on Janet Mills. for more information on Diane Russell. for more information about Betsy Sweet.

    Erica Thoms can be reached at