Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A Debate

Mainers are faced with some decisions on choices in three weeks. Both the Republicans and the Democrats will be heading to the polls to choose candidates for the November elections. Both parties have spirited primaries for candidates to vie for Congressional seats. In some areas, there are also people vying for State legislative seats as well.

We Republicans have to decide who will represent us in the elections for the First Congressional District. Political newcomer Dean Scontras and political veteran Charles Summers are seeking the nomination for the seat being vacated by Representative Thomas Allen. Allen is among Democrats hoping to oust Republican Susan Collins from her seat.

Scontras and Summers held what was billed as a debate in Scarborough last night. I was there. I had decided to attend the event, sponsored by the Cumberland County Republican Committee and moderated by WGME newsman Greg Lagerquist, in an attempt to learn more about the two men. Until last night I had no idea who I would support in the primary in three weeks. I still don’t.

Both candidates handled the wimpy questions rather well. The format was a little strange. In its collective wisdom the CCRC decided to write all the questions itself and phrase them as they believe the Democrats will phrase the issues between the primary and the election. I guess they tried to think like Democrats as they wrote the questions. In my opinion, they failed. They did touch upon, however, many of the issues facing Mainers.

I thought that both candidates handled the questions equally well. However, both candidates also failed to respond completely to some questions and formed their answers loosely around the questions but generally made three minute political speeches on topics they wished. That was O.K. with me as I think the candidates were able to give me more direction on how they will handle various issues if elected. I would think, though, that those people there who were already committed to one candidate or the other might think their candidate was on the money while the other didn’t answer or avoided the questions.

I think there was one element of the debate that bothered me a little. In the first half hour of the session, Scontras tended to drift across the stage to stand directly in front of Summers while he delivered his responses. That blocked many in the audience from weighing Summers’ reaction to what Scontras was saying. In the second half hour Summers apparently figured it out and he drifted across the stage to block out Scontras. Since neither really showed a lot of reaction, it was a somewhat wasted effort.

I’m not going to evaluate the issues as espoused by the men last night. I didn’t attend the session to be a reporter. I think it’s sufficient to say that both were generally consistent in their responses: The conservative Scontras gave conservative responses; the more moderate Summers gave more moderate responses. That's just what one should expect from these two men.

There was only one real contentious few minutes and they were toward the end of the evening. Summers defended his actions in a Scontras ad that said Summers says he cut taxes while in the Legislature but in reality voted to support the highest tax increase up until then in 1991. Scontras fired back that the facts of the ad were correct.

As I said earlier, I went there last night for my own education. About all I came away with was the feeling that both men would be excellent Representatives for Maine in Congress. I had the impression that both men are honest and sincere in their attempts to serve Mainers in the national picture. I think that disappointed me. Only because I didn’t learn what I wanted, though, a clear choice for me.

The final comparison for me is a little unfair, though. I’m generally but not always a conservative so I’d have to say that I may have been leaning a little toward Scontras. But in person last night, Summers showed a more powerful presence. These items, however, should not be the basis for choice. I need to hear more from them on issues and how they would represent Maine in Congress.

My personal work will have to continue, but right now I believe either one will be excellent and I will at least be able to give my full support to whoever wins in three weeks.

On a side note: I think the poor choice of venue may have been a factor in a lower than expected turnout. I suspect many people couldn’t find the Scarborough Middle School. It took me several wrong turns and a need to stop someone to help me with directions before I found it. I almost came home before ever getting there because it was getting frustrating. The sponsoring committee should have included directions to the school which certainly isn’t on the beaten path. I heard more than one person there express these same thoughts.


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