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LePage: Gov. Mills 'very fortunate' that COVID came to Maine

On Thursday, Mills and LePage mostly tackled economic issues at an event hosted by the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Credit: AP
This photo combination shows Republican candidate Paul LePage, left, and Democratic incumbent Janet Mills for the upcoming Maine gubernatorial election on Tuesday, June 14, 2022. Independent candidate Sam Hunkler is also running for election. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

PORTLAND, Maine — Republican nominee for governor Paul LePage said during a debate Thursday that his Democratic rival got a political boost from COVID-19, thanks to federal pandemic aid.

“This governor has been very, very fortunate that COVID came, because with COVID came nearly $15 billion from Uncle Joe,” LePage said, referring to the rough total of federal dollars that flowed from the administration of President Joe Biden, a Democrat.

The remark by LePage, who served as governor from 2010 to 2018, drew a surprised look from Gov. Janet Mills and an angry response from the state Democratic Party, which called it “an insult to Maine people, especially to the thousands” who lost a loved one.

Mills was able to build up the surplus and give most of it to Mainers because of federal spending, LePage said during this week's second debate amid a fiercely competitive governor's race.

RELATED: Fact-checking claims made during Maine's first gubernatorial debate

LePage has a history of off-color comments. In 2016, he said out-of-state drug dealers “with the name D-Money, Smoothie, Shifty” come to Maine and “impregnate a young white girl before they leave.” More recently, during his current campaign, he threatened to “deck” a Democratic staffer if the staffer got too close.

On Thursday, Mills and LePage mostly tackled economic issues at an event hosted by the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce. A third candidate, independent Sam Hunkler, did not participate.

More than 2,500 Mainers have died from COVID-19 since the pandemic, which started in the second year of Mills' tenure. Her supporters say her leadership reduced coronavirus deaths in the state, which has the oldest median age in the country.

During the debate, Mills took credit for building up Maine’s rainy day fund to unprecedented levels, providing good stewardship of the state budget and returning more than half of a surplus to residents.

RELATED: LePage proposes to suspend pandemic-era taxes and fees to fight inflation

But LePage touted his efforts during his time in office to rein in spending and provide a sound budget — without the federal cash infusion the state received during the pandemic.

He said that instead of sending $850 relief checks to Mainers, Mills should have used the surplus to lower state income taxes.

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