PORTLAND, Maine — ( The above video is the debate between Gov. Janet Mills and former governor Paul LePage that aired on 10/27/2022 on NEWS CENTER Maine.)
In the last days before Election Day, Maine's Republican and Democratic parties, and their candidates, are hammering away at what they consider to be the key issues.
For Republicans, it's inflation and what they say is Gov. Janet Mills' lack of action in fighting it.
On Tuesday, the Maine GOP released an edited audio clip of a conversation Mills had with Bates College Democrats over the weekend.
In the unedited version, which they also released, Mills said, "I watched Meet The Press this morning and more talk about, 'Well now, Republicans have this inflation issue, and people aren't thinking so much about abortion and things like that....' No. It's a distraction. It's something we've got to deal with. It's a major problem, but they're distracting people from the issues they really want to vote on when they get into office."
That word, distraction, was the focus of a news conference Tuesday morning with Maine GOP Chair Dr. Demi Kouzounas. She said Mills is avoiding inflation, which Kouzounas said is the number one issue facing Maine people. She said her office fields phone calls daily about concerns over the price of heating oil and gas.
Meanwhile, Mills has joined rallies in support of a woman's access to abortion, including one Tuesday afternoon with Planned Parenthood.
When asked whether republicans had a plan to limit abortion access in Maine, Kouzounas used the same word she criticized the governor for using: "I'm not going to distract from that. I'm going to talk about number one. If you all want to talk about abortion issues, and that's what she wants to talk about today, as governor, I think it's darn wrong. I think we should be talking about inflation and heating costs and what's affecting most households in the state of Maine," Kouzounas said.
Paul LePage is running against Mills to be Maine's governor once again. Republicans have spoken quite a bit while on the campaign trail about high heating oil and gas prices. But when asked if Maine Republicans had policies that would — or even could — combat inflation locally, Kouzounas said, "I don't. I'm not going to be governor, and Gov. LePage is the economist. I'm a dentist. But I can tell you we have gotten no answers from Gov. Mills."
LePage hasn't officially laid out a policy plan on his website or in interviews with NEWS CENTER Maine to combat inflation but has talked about plans to cut taxes.
LePage has said he would eliminate the state's gas tax as well as a new packaging tax, which would charge importers or manufacturers of plastic packaging with less than 30% recycled content — a cost the GOP said is only passed on to the consumer.
The law designed to make large corporations cover the expensive cost of recycling their packaging was passed by state lawmakers in July, but it could be years until the regulations to go into effect.
LePage has also mentioned increasing energy production and productivity in the state and is expected to speak more about that in a media briefing at Dysart's Restaurant and Truck Stop in Hermon on Wednesday.
Chair of the Maine Democratic Party, Drew Gattine, pointed to the $850 relief checks Mills sent out earlier in the year, saying she has prioritized helping struggling Mainers and will continue to do so.
"We're going to assess where we are, as a state, financially, in terms of the resources available to us. And we're going to use that money directly to try to help Maine people in terms of giving them financial relief, trying to help them with their heating bills, trying to help them with the price of food, providing relief from property taxes, which again, helps put money in peoples pockets in a very very direct way," Gattine said.