PORTLAND, Maine — Democratic Gov. Janet Mills and former two-term Republican Gov. Paul LePage had starkly different views of the state's economy as things got feisty during their fourth debate Thursday evening.
LePage went on the attack against the incumbent, suggesting the economy has gone to pot since he left office in 2019 and that Mills' policies were a big contributor to inflationary pressures. He said people are worse off now than four years ago despite federal pandemic aid that flowed into the state.
“I am the guy that's got a business background, and a business background works this way. In the private sector, when you spend more money and get less results, you get fired,” he said.
Mills said economists believe Maine's budget is robust and well positioned to weather a recession. She said the state has recovered jobs lost in the pandemic, the state's economic growth is 11th in the nation, and Maine's 3.3% unemployment is better than the national and New England averages.
“We’re doing a pretty damned good job under difficult circumstances," she responded.
Mills, a former state attorney general and Maine's first woman governor, is seeking a second term in one of a dozen competitive governor's races nationwide. LePage wants a third term and a shot at becoming the state's longest-serving governor.
Both of them accused the other of spreading misinformation during the debate sponsored by News Center Maine and the Maine State Chamber of Commerce. They clashed over issues including pandemic policies, energy issues, school policies, jail staffing and relations with Native Americans.
The debate was testy at times with LePage calling Mills "one hell of a bad economist” at one point early in the debate as he ramped up criticism less than two weeks before the election.
“I’ve spent the better part of my career listening to loud men talk tough to disguise their weaknesses,” Mills responded.
In the previous debate, LePage accused Mills of spending money like a “drunken sailor” while she noted that she returned more than half of a state surplus to residents as $850 relief checks.
On Thursday evening, Mills asked LePage, who criticized the relief checks as a gimmick, if he'd cashed his check. “I believe so, yes,” he responded.