PORTLAND, Maine — Former Republican Gov. Paul LePage made reference to Democratic Gov. Janet Mills’ comment about inflation being “a distraction” in their final debate Thursday evening, attempting to show she was out of touch at a time of high energy, gasoline and food costs.
The incumbent defended her track record through the tumultuous pandemic and vowed to help struggling Mainers while urging voters not to return to the “fighting, dysfunction and stalemate” that she said marked LePage’s eight years in office.
“We can’t go back to instability and infighting that stands in the way of solving problems,” she said.
The debate sponsored by WMTW-TV, WABI-TV and WAGM-TV at the University of Southern Maine touched on a number of topics including abortion, immigration, child protection, schools and COVID-19 testing, among others.
This week, Republicans attacked Mills for calling inflation a “distraction” during comments she made at Bates College. But the remarks initially released by the GOP were edited and had left out part of her remarks in which she said “it’s something we have to deal with, a major problem.”
Mills, the first woman to serve as Maine governor, is seeking a second term while LePage, who already served two terms, wants to return to office to become the longest-serving governor in state history.
The campaign pits a pragmatic, moderate Democrat against a bombastic, conservative Republican. It is one of about a dozen competitive governor races across the country.
During the debate, the candidates talked about their different governing styles in a discussion on transparency, with LePage defending his past policy of requiring his commissioners to report to him when they interacted with lawmakers and the press.
“I lead. I run a government. I’d like to know what my commissioners are doing. I’d like them to keep me abreast of where they’re going. That's all. It’s not rocket science,” he said.
Mills said she hired good people and trusted them to do their jobs without micro managing. “I never instructed them not to talk to anybody,” she said. “It’s not middle school. It’s state government.”
It was the fifth time the two candidates met for a debate. Absent was an independent candidate, Sam Hunkler.
LePage and Mills agreed on one thing: Both of them declined the moderator’s offer to end the debate by singing the “16 County Song” that’s taught to schoolchildren to learn the names of the state’s counties.
Mills said she wasn’t going there. Neither was LePage. “My dogs howl when I sing in the shower,” LePage joked.