Primary Election Profile: Betsy Sweet

Jun 5, 2018

Betsy Sweet is one of seven Democrats trying to win her party’s gubernatorial nomination June 12.

Sweet is a longtime lobbyist who served as director of the Maine Women’s Lobby and the Maine Commission for Women. She currently heads Moose Ridge Associates, a lobbying firm in Augusta. She has not held elected office.

Sweet told Maine Public’s Fred Bever what she thinks makes her stand out from a large Democratic field:

Bever: There are many other candidates in this race and many of them are promoting similar ideas to one another. But what specific proposals make you different than your primary opponents?

Sweet: The No. 1 thing that makes me different is I am the only Clean Elections candidate in this Democratic primary. In my years of advocacy at the State House, I’ve seen that the influence of money and special interests, and special interest PACs, is affecting everything that we are trying to do, whether it’s health care, addressing the opioid crisis, passing a minimum wage, economic development. Money in politics talks. And I helped write the law in 1996, and I have seen that it just gets worse and worse. So, I think we are at a critical time in Maine’s history and in our national history where people know and understand that government has gotten out of our hands and into the hands of special interests. And I’m the only candidate on the Democratic side who is not willing to take those interests, and wants to address all the issues that we face from the values of Maine people — everyday, ordinary Maine people.

Bever: What is the biggest challenge that you see facing Maine and, as governor, how would you respond?

Sweet: I think the biggest challenge we have is providing health care. And I think the reason is not only for the health of our citizens and the opioid crisis and many things that are associated with the health care issue, but also with our economic development. Our businesses cannot compete globally without health care. I was just at a logging forum the other day and, you know, they were talking about Canadian tariffs and stuff for competing with logging contractors and wood manufacturers. And the No. 1 reason they can’t compete is Canadian companies are not spending 30 percent of their income and their profits on health care. So, we have to do that. And, so, I am for a single-payer, universal health care system that covers everybody. Now, I know that people say, “Maine, we can’t do it alone, we have to wait for the federal government.” Well, we’re not going to get this from the federal government anytime soon. So, I’m already working with people to look at a New England compact in which we can work with some or all of the New England states to actually create a single-payer system for New England, and that we can lead the country.

Bever: Polls still show that jobs are the biggest concern for voters here in Maine. As governor, what would you do to help grow the economy?

Sweet: From the worker side, I think we have to start paying people a wage they can live on. So, I support a $15 minimum wage. But in terms of attracting business, and attracting job growth in the state, we have got to change from having our economic development plans being chasing big manufacturing companies out-of-state and hope that they’re going to come. They’re not coming. We need to grow where we’re planted. There are some amazing opportunities I think that we have, in technology — in solar energy, in energy development, wave energy out in the ocean, which is incredibly new and upcoming — that create good, high-paying technological jobs. I think, also, we have to look at the workforce. We have got to open the welcome mat to people to come into the state. We’re losing 7,000 workers a year. I also think, obviously, getting high-speed broadband all over the state is critical. So, I’m proposing that we have regional development authorities where they have not only the ideas, but they actually have the dollars. Take the dollars away from Augusta and give it to our regions to actually do economic development that makes sense to them. So, we need to get people in Millinocket, for example, or in Caribou figuring out what’s good for that area. And it’s going to be different than what’s good for Elliott and South Portland, you know, and that’s OK.

Bever: Maine voters will be using ranked-choice voting. Assuming that you’ll rank yourself first, who would be your second or third choice and why?

Sweet: My second choice would be Mark Eves. I think I would be No. 1, and Mark would be my No. 2.

This interview has been edited for clarity. For a longer version of this interview, aired as part of a Public Affairs special program, click here. For more on Sweet’s stances on the issues, and other Democrats in Maine’s gubernatorial race, click here. Visit our Your Vote 2018 page for more elections resources and information.