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Seacoast Online - "District 1 Hopefuls Argue War, Health Care"

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Location: Ogunquit, ME

Seacoast Online - "District 1 Hopefuls Argue War, Health Care"

Debate was lively and largely aimed across party lines as seven of the eight candidates for Maine's 1st Congressional District seat faced off during a forum at the Dunaway Center on Thursday. The exception was Adam Cote, who broke ranks with his Democratic peers on issues like health care and Iraq.

The forum was sponsored by the Portsmouth Herald, The York Weekly and the York County Coast Star.

Democrats Cote, Michael Brennan, Mark Lawrence, Chellie Pingree and Ethan Strimling, along with Republicans Dean Scontras and Ruth Summers (standing in for her husband Charlie Summers, who was making his way home from a military tour in Iraq), answered a series of questions as they all make their case for the June 10 primary.

Concerning Iraq, the Democrats called for immediate withdrawal — except for Cote, a military veteran of both Iraq and Bosnia. He said he was firmly committed to ending the war, but urged a "detailed plan to avoid a humanitarian crisis."

Republicans Scontras and Summers, on the other hand, argued that the Bush administration's troop surge policy had worked and that the country should continue with the effort.

"Sixty percent of Americans approve of (Ambassador) Ryan Crocker and Gen. David Petraeus," Scontras said. "They are making progress. We need to consider Iran's intentions in southern Iraq."

Differences in health care were similarly stark. The two Republicans strongly opposed a single-payer insurance system.

"Charlie believes in a consumer-based system," Summers said. "It should be treated like car insurance. He feels strongly about (the effectiveness of) small business association health plans."

Democrats, again with the exception of Cote, favored a single-payer system. Brennan pointed to the state's Dirigo plan as an example of a single payer system that worked.

"We were the first state in the country to commit to universal health care," he said. "Dirigo has saved $110 million in the last three years. I support a national single-payer system."

Scontras, meanwhile, challenged Dirigo's effectiveness and at one point said Brennan was not "from the state of Maine, but the state of denial."

There were a variety of suggestions for addressing the country's current economic woes, ranging from shifting away from tax policies that favor the wealthy (Lawrence) to passing universal health care coverage (Pingree) to sending people to Washington who understand that people are struggling to make ends meet (Strimling).

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