PORTLAND, Maine — Incumbent Gov. Janet Mills and Republican challenger and former Gov. Paul LePage faced off in the final gubernatorial debate Thursday evening before the November election.
NEWS CENTER Maine partnered with the Maine State Chamber of Commerce for the Voice of the Voter forum.
The debate was moderated by NEWS CENTER Maine's Pat Callahan, who asked candidates questions, including many sent to us from viewers like you.
Candidates spoke on topics such as Maine's economy and worker shortages, gun violence, education, and more.
To begin the debate, candidates addressed what they considered the biggest issue to tackle in Maine. LePage said the biggest issue on his mind is inflation, while Mills said hers was leadership.
The better part of the beginning of the debate consisted of discussion of the economy, a matter where candidates disagree.
Candidates disagreed on numbers and rankings of where the state's economy stands amid other states, with LePage claiming Maine's economy is not doing well.
Mills and LePage both confirmed they would not mandate a COVID-19 vaccine for school-age children when approached about vaccine regulations.
To address the topic of workforce shortages in Maine, Mills said Mainers need reliable housing and childcare to be able to sustain the workforce, but LePage claims Mills perpetuated the shortage.
LePage noted a decrease in workforce participation, saying worker participation was 65% when he left office, and now it's 58%. According to fredeconomicdata.org, that is partially correct. In January 2019, when LePage left office worker participation was 62.8%, not 65%.
"Our workforce shortage is something that is long-standing, I can show you the headlines all during his tenure of governor," Mills said in response.
She goes on to point to problems that came up during the pandemic, like people retiring early, and women leaving the workplace to care for children.
Questions then moved to addressing gun violence. Mills discussed the bipartisan "yellow flag" bill that was passed in the legislature in April 2021. LePage said his favored course of action would be to do away with "gun free zones" at schools. He said he believes gun violence stems from mental health issues that need to be addressed, and that "law-abiding citizens should have the ability to protect their families and our schools."
Moving to the topic of educational funding, candidates were asked if they planned to continue foot 55 percent. Mills agreed, and LePage said, "If we can agree between the school system and the state of Maine of what goes into the 55 percent, absolutely."
LePage went on to say that if educator's retirement and healthcare are included he has already funded schools at 55 percent.
Candidates addressed a contentious topic seen in multiple school districts around the state regarding book bans. In response, Mills said she'd leave districts to decide the fate of LGBTQ+ content and books and believes parents should have say.
"The book is fine," LePage said referring to the book "Gener Queer. "Just give parents the ability to have the say."
During the debate, LePage unveiled a new website, janetmillslied.com, where he points to issues he believes she lied about.
The debate was brought to a close by challengers asking one question each of each other, followed by closing statements.