Dems debate, 'beat Snowe' strategizing
By Patti Mikkelsen
April 13, 2006
New Gloucester - A debate between the two Democratic U.S. Senate candidates who are vying for the party's nomination during the June primary election was staged by the Cumberland County Democratic Committee on Sunday evening. The New Gloucester Democratic Committee played host to this well-attended event.

About 70 Maine Democrats gathered in the vestry of the First Congregational Church to hear what Jean Hay Bright and Eric Mehnert had to say on a myriad of domestic and foreign issues. The attendees were mindful of their charge to formulate an important decision: which candidate to chose in the primary to challenge Olympia Snowe in the November election.

When moderator Malory Shaughnessy posed the topic of the federal deficit and ever-rising debt ceiling, Ms. Hay Bright noted two major drains on the U.S. treasury: the Iraq war and tax cuts for the rich. She advocated withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq as soon as possible and rescinding tax cuts for those in the highest tax bracket.

The discussion occasionally took a lighter tone.

She would keep the estate tax in place and not reduce the tax on capital gains and dividends. Mr. Mehnert wanted to end the war in Iraq soon and to stop subsidizing companies such as Halliburton. He felt that an overriding problem the country has is that the current administration doesn't see a value in entitlements, causing inappropriate spending priorities. He summed up his sentiments by saying, "The feds have a responsibility to its citizens."

In response to Ms. Shaughnessy's question pertaining to environmental protections and climate change, Mr. Mehnert cited an executive branch that has "run amok." He contended that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been given rulemaking authority that allows corporations to slip through loopholes. In his opinion rulemaking authority should be in the hands of Congress, as it has been in the past.

Ms. Hay Bright stressed that environmental concerns show how crucial it is to get Democrats back in control of Congress. She felt that in past years there used to be a much smaller divide between the political parties than currently exists, allowing for pro-environmental legislation to be supported by both Democrats and Republicans. She illustrated this dichotomy by contrasting her vocation as an organic farmer to Tom DeLay's former occupation as a pesticide applicator.

Other topics included a single-payer form of administering health care, nuclear power, immigration, Iran and North Korea policies, and Congressional investigations.

What would be an effective "beat Snowe strategy"? Mr. Mehnert acknowledges a recent poll showing a nearly 70% approval rating for Olympia Snowe. He countered with another poll conducted by Democrats, which asked citizens about individual issues for which Sen. Snowe supports. Approval ratings then slumped to about 40%, leading Mr. Mehnert to believe that her level of support isn't as deep when respondents are made aware of her voting record.

He asserts that Sen. Snowe has voted 82% of the time for Bush administration policies since 2001. Given the low approval ratings of President Bush, linking Snowe to the current administration is key. Ms. Hay Bright also feels that Snowe "is not a moderate anymore." She agrees that apprising people of Snowe's voting record would reveal the senator's transition to the far right. Ms. Hay Bright noted that she would be Sen. Snowe's first woman opponent. She maintained that Sen. Snowe's vote in favor of the confirmation of Justice Alito showed that the senator is becoming less of a pro-choice candidate. Above, Enthusiastic Democrats crowded the vestry to hear the candidates' discussion of important issues.

The debate was videotaped by Dan Mooers, who projected that the DVD and VHS versions would be available to local access cable channels within about 10 days. Any stations within Maine that would like to request a copy of the debate may contact the Cumberland County Democratic Committee Chair Marilyn Russell,