Gubernatorial Candidates Address Disability Issues at Forum

by Mike Reynolds

On Wednesday September 22, 2010 Three of the Five Gubernatorial Candidates for governor of Maine addressed a relatively large crowd of self advocates, parents of individuals with disabilities and paraprofessionals at a forum at the Hill Mansion in Augusta. The forum was sponsored by The Disability Rights Center together with Maine Developmental Disabilities Council, Speaking Up For Us, Maine Parent Federation, Southern Maine Parent Awareness, Autism Society of Maine, Helping Hands of Maine, Gear Parent Network, Learning Disabilities Association of Maine, National Alliance for the Mentally Ill of Maine, Adoptive and Foster Families of Maine, The Center for Community Inclusion and Disability Studies, Maine Center on Deafness and Support Affiliation with THRIVE.

Eliot Cutler, Libby Mitchell and Shawn Moody all addressed the Forum. Notably absent was Paul LePage, who is the Republican candidate for Governor who has stated in the past that he would ask the business community, rather than individuals who are directly impacted by the state budget, to draft priorities for his administration. Kevin Scott, an independent candidate, also did not appear. Former Mayor of Lewiston and Auburn, John Jenkins announced his candidacy after this forum was scheduled and also did not appear.

Mr. Cutler spoke first. Cutler insisted that “I can rescue Maine from decades of partisan bickering,” He apparently forgot that Maine had an independent Governor until early 2003. Mr Cutler stated that Access to public officials and the law making process required visibility. In terms of funding critical programs for individuals with disabilities, Mr. Cutler stated that the state needed to generate more tax revenue by promoting business growth and in turn; people with disabilities will benefit because funding will be sufficient. Mr. Cutler apologized about his ads not being closed-captioned, and stated he will focus on trying to correct that. Cutler empathized strongly that he was not going to make any promises about funding and that if he cannot make promise to other interests like the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine or the Maine Heritage Land Grant for Maine's Future, he could not make any commitments to anyone in our Forum. An audience member later stated to me that they were dismayed by Mr. Cutler's comparison of the needs of one of Maine's most vulnerable populations to the needs of Sportsman. Mr. Cutler was opposed to any mandatory helmet law for motorcyclists in Maine.

Democratic candidate Libby Mitchell spoke next. She focused on her long career of public service and her commitment to people with disabilities. She stated when asked about her commitment to mental health services that she was directly impacted by mental illness and that one of her family members was currently missing because of mental health issues. She proudly announced all of her campaign commercials were closed-captioned because as a publicly funded candidate she was required to have them captioned by law. She also mentioned the creation of an advisory board to look at issues such as Employment and people with disabilities.

Sean Moody spoke last and he discussed his background as a small businessman who felt compelled to run for the state's highest elected office. When asked how many employees with disabilities he had hired in 33 years, Moody stated that the jobs at his business were highly skilled, the questioner stated there were many highly skilled individuals with disabilities, and Moody stated he hired four individuals with disabilities. When asked if the new Health Care Law was an unfair law based on a mandate for individuals to be covered, and asked if he would join several other states in a lawsuit against the law, he said he did feel that the law was unfair, and an overreach.