'The Pledge' Divides Maine 2nd District GOP Candidates

May 14, 2014

Maine 2nd District GOP candidate Kevin Raye says he won't take "the pledge" to oppose tax increases.
Credit Maine House of Representatives

Within Republican circles, it is simply known as "the pledge" - a  commitment by a candidate to oppose all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rates for individuals and businesses. And taking the pledge has become a big deal in the spirited GOP 2nd Congressional District race that pits conservative Bruce Poliquin against the more moderate Kevin Raye.  A.J. Higgins reports.

At its core, the logic advanced by former Maine Senate President Kevin Raye in refusing to take the "no new taxes" pledge seemed pretty rational to most of the business crowd that gathered at Jeff's Catering in Brewer.

"I do believe that signing such a pledge is not responsible," Raye said.

The Perry businessman and longtime chief of staff for Republican Olympia Snowe told those attending the Bangor Chamber of Commerce business breakfast that it makes no sense for candidates to box themselves in when the future is so uncertain.

"How do we know what situations may befall our country? How do we know whether we're going to face a crisis that we can't even conceive of right now?" Raye said. "And I think to have taken such a pledge is, frankly, not in the best interests of the country - we don't know what we may have to gear up for in the future."

But Raye's opponent in the GOP primary, who was also on hand for the breakfast, made clear that he takes a different view.

"Yes, this is very clear example of how I differ from my opponent, and why I believe I am best prepared to represent the 2nd District and help fix the problems in Washington," Poliquin said. "I have signed this pledge and I will do it again."

Bruce Poliquin, a self-made millionaire who has made two unsuccessful attempts at statewide office, is staking his claim as the more conservative of the two. And in an off-year primary election, with only two names on the primary ballot next month, the more conservative wing of the party is likely to dominate the ballot box. Poliquin wants those conservatives to know that he's their man.

"Our federal government is flat broke," Poliquin said. "We are flat broke. We are borrowing money to spend and we're $17 trillion in debt," Poliquin said. "We don't have a revenue problem. We have a huge spending problem. And to increase revenues by not signing a pledge, by raising taxes is absolutely the wrong way to go."

Poliquin maintains that "the pledge" is the only hope that voters have today of holding their representatives' feet to the fire. And the message resonates with some Republican voters.

Although he admits to be a little hard of hearing, Edward Campbell of Brewer says he heard Poliquin's fiscal restraint message loud and clear.

"Well, in my circumstances of being 85, it certainly is - I'm pretty well strapped," said Campbell. "So it is a critical thing nowadays with prices nowadays."

But there were also Republicans like Claire Payne of Holden who say Kevin Raye's more circumspect approach to "the pledge" makes more sense.

"When it comes to financial issues, you have to keep all options open, and I think that the no-taxes pledge does not preserve options," Payne said.

On issues such as health care, tax reform and a northern Maine national park, both candidates share similar views. But they differ  on renewable energy strategies. Raye favors a mix of renewable clean energy sources along with fossil fuels and cutting imports of foreign oil. Poliquin says the country should fully develop oil and natural gas resources in the United States to decrease foreign oil imports.