FTS Q&A: Eliot Cutler

To say the race for Governor in Maine is hotly contested is just a bit of an understatement. As it was in 2010, this year’s race features three big name candidates representing three major political groups. 

As part of our new Maine Politics series, we at Fill The Steins are reaching out to all of the candidates for major office in the state this election season and asking them the questions that our audience wants to know.

We are pleased to kick-off the series with an independent candidate for governor, a man who made a career along side politicians in Washington DC. A successful lawyer and advocate for the people with business experience from all over the country and around the world. We are pleased that Cape Elizabeth’s own, Eliot Cutler, accepted our invitation to join Fill The Steins for an open discussion on his plans for the state.

Mr. Cutler joined us on Sunday Evening for the Fill The Steins Podcast; that interview is available under Episode 7 of our Podcast Page located here. In addition to the interview, Eliot was kind enough to take on some additional questions about his life growing up in Maine and how he wants to fix jobs and education.

Fill The Steins (FTS): Thank you so much for joining us Mr. Cutler. We want to start off by talking a little bit about your upbringing. You were born and attended school in Bangor for most of your childhood, tell us about some of your fondest memories from growing up in the “Queen City”.

Eliot Cutler (EC): My most vivid memory is of my grandfather taking me on bus rides around town every Saturday morning. I also remember going to the Coffee Pot for sandwiches, getting fried dough at the Bangor State Fair and riding the escalators at Freeses.

FTS: You went on to graduate from Harvard and later Georgetown with a law degree, during that time you worked for Maine Senator Edmund Muskie, one of the most well known politicians from our state. Do you have an interesting story about your time with Muskie while in Washington?

EC: While it wasn’t in a stein, Ed Muskie enjoyed bourbon and milk before bed.

FTS: You went on to establish a highly successful law firm in Washington which kept you from returning to Maine (full-time) for decades. What do we need to do as a state to have students who go away to college to return and those who go to college in-state to remain here after graduation?

EC: What really kept me from coming back to Maine was my wife, Melanie, being unable to get a job at any Maine law firm for the sole reason that she was a woman. In 1974, my wife was one of three highly qualified women who had applied to law firms in Portland, but none of them were hired. We made a deal as a couple that wherever she got a job offer, we would make a living there.

We need to do a lot more to give future graduates the opportunity to make a living here in Maine. Here are two ways I think we can do that:
1. Provide a dollar-for-dollar tax credit against the income tax of any graduate of a 2 or 4-year degree program. Most new graduates don’t make a lot of money, so the state won’t lose much tax revenue — but the financial assistance will provide them enough time to start a family and create a living for themselves that it’s highly unlikely they’ll want to leave. 
2. There is a connection between being last in economic activity in New England, and being second to last in broadband speed. We need a governor who realizes that the demand for high-speed internet will only increase and that these networks are becoming more and more of a necessity to attract and keep businesses in Maine. More businesses setting up shop in Maine means more job opportunities for Maine students after graduation.

FTS: According to a recent study by Grapevine at Illinois State University, the State of Maine will provide in excess of $260M in 2014 towards higher education institutions; more than the amounts contributed by New Hampshire and Vermont combined. At the same time, in-state tuition remains close to $20k per year at Orono. Do you have a plan to help make the UMaine System more affordable for students remaining in state for college?

EC: I’ve been a strong proponent of studying the “Pay it Forward, Pay it Back,” plan in place in Australia and just approved for study in Oregon that creates a fund to support tuition-free post-high school education. Maine high school graduates could attend Maine’s public colleges and universities on a tuition-free basis, on the condition that they live and work in Maine and pay the fund back with a nominal percentage of their income over 20-25 years following graduation.

FTS: The Old Port in Portland is home to some of the best restaurants in New England. You live across the bridge in Cape Elizabeth now, have you had a great meal recently in the Old Port and if so where?

EC: J’s Oyster Bar, Becky’s Diner, Hugo’s… the list could go on and on. But there’s some great eating over in South Portland, too!

FTS: It’s a sunny Saturday Morning in Cape Elizabeth, what would we find Eliot Cutler doing if he wasn’t running for Governor?

EC: That’s easy. Melanie and I would go hiking!

FTS: We always like to finish our interview with this question. Though not always the case, when the moment strikes you, what do you like to fill your stein with for beverage?

EC: Any ale crafted in Maine — and with a stronger Maine brand, we can develop global markets for one of Maine’s fastest growing products!

We would like to thank Mr. Cutler and his social media coordinator and UMaine alum, Nate Wildes, for setting up our interview and we wish them best of luck in the 2014 Governor’s race.

So what did you think of the Eliot Cutler interview? Do you think his plan for education would actually work? Tell us your thoughts in the comment section below.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Bangor Daily News

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