Portland, Maine had the opportunity to see Maine’s current Governor Janet Mills, who is seeking a second term, face off against former Governor Paul LePage, attempting for his third term, in the last gubernatorial debate until November’s election. On Thursday, October 27th, 2022, the two candidates and a large audience gathered at the Holiday Inn by the Bay to discuss and listen to the current issues in Maine, and how the potential future governor’s plan to handle these situations. The debate was moderated by NEWS CENTER Maine, who had also partnered with Maine State Chamber of Commerce in order to make this event a success for everyone involved.
Maine State Chamber of Commerce had opened the night with a dinner and award ceremony, taking a moment to acknowledge the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Kate Doherty for her commitment and dedication to supporting Kennebec Valley with the “Chamber Professional of the Year” award. Dana Connors, the President of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, also received an award titled the “Dirigo Award” to recognize his achievements as he led the Chamber during the past 30 years, which is now ending with his retirement this year. The award was titled “Dirigo” after Maine’s motto, which means, “I lead,” and was also received by several Maine Governors and U.S. Senators for exceptional leadership qualities and service to Maine.
Following the award ceremony, NEWS CENTER Maine’s Pat Callahan began asking the candidates questions, including some sent in by viewers. The first question asked was what the candidates felt was the most important issue in Maine. While LePage had started off strong with the topic of inflation, Mills was a lot more broad with her answer, focusing on the importance of leadership. She stressed how vital it is to remain fair as a leader by talking to all parties involved. Governor Mills urges voters to focus on how different leaders react to issues. “I deal with things by attacking problems, not people,” she states.
When the topic of the pandemic was brought up, Mills claimed that Maine did the best at recovering from the pandemic, and that the unemployment rate was around 3.3%. She brings attention to and stands with the fact that reporters have made claims of Maine having the most sustainable budget, and that Maine would be able to withstand a recession, if one was to happen. “The state’s economic growth has been the 11th in the country. That’s what the experts say,” the governor commented. Both Mills and LePage made it clear that they would not be requiring schoolchildren to receive a COVID-19 vaccination in order to attend school.
“We’re doing a pretty damn good job under difficult circumstances, too,” Mills said. “We dealt with a pandemic. That really undermines everybody’s economy.”
Throughout the debate, LePage made various comments about where Maine stood in different categories, such as having high food costs, and record-breaking amounts of overdoses and child deaths. Mills immediately shuts these remarks down, claiming they were fact-checked and proven to be false by the press. “You know, I’ve spent the better part of my career listening to loud men talk tough to disguise their weaknesses. And that’s what I’m hearing tonight from Paul LePage,” Mills responded, after one of LePage’s comments comparing Maine to New Hampshire.
During October of 2021, the Mills Administration had required healthcare workers to be fully vaccinated in order to remain in the healthcare profession, which resulted in many healthcare workers to lose their jobs during a time when healthcare workers are more essential than ever. When the candidates were asked about their opinions on this, Mills defended her reasoning by emphasizing the importance of limiting the spread of COVID-19 in any way possible. She states that patients being treated deserve to be treated by a professional who is as fully protected as they can be, and that the COVID-19 vaccine isn’t different from receiving a vaccine for any other contagious disease. Mills finishes her response by claiming that in Maine, vaccination rates were one of the highest while COVID-19 death rates were one of the lowest.
One of the next questions was about the issue of less people in the workforce, and how the candidates were planning on handling the issue. Mills responded with what attempts she has already been making towards rebuilding Maine’s workforce. “We’ve been talking to hundreds of businesses and business leaders across the state. What they tell me they need is not just workforce, but the things that people need to be on the job, take a job, stay on the job,” Mills states. “That means investing in Maine people.” The methods Governor Mills is taking in an effort to invest in Maine people include investing in training, childcare, and housing, which she believes will allow for more people to join and stay in the workforce. She has been using federal funds to complete these projects. Mills has also made it possible for people to go to community colleges for two years tuition free, allowing more people to build their skills without worrying about going into debt.
Maine citizens were also concerned about how the candidates were treating the issue of gun violence. Janet Mills had talked about how she had already gotten members from all sides of the discussion together to come to a compromise on what could be done, from NRA members, law enforcement, gun control advocates, and more. “But it takes bringing people together to address violence,” Mills said. Their solution was what they called a “yellow flag” bill, rather than a red flag bill that other states currently have. The yellow flag bill allows law enforcement to take firearms away from citizens who are perceived to be at risk to themselves or others, with a note signed off from a medical professional declaring that the person in question is indeed unfit to be in possession of a firearm. Individuals who have had law enforcement take firearms from them for this reason are able to retrieve their firearms when a judge deems them ready. Governor Mills also enacted a School Safety Center that visits different schools around the state of Maine to ensure the safety of children.
Paul LePage had claimed that reading and math test scores of children in Maine are the worst in all of New England, and one of the worst in the country, and expressed concern over what children are learning about in school, claiming that they’re being exposed to sexually implicit material. Mills was in shock about the jump from test scores to this sort of material supposedly present in Maine schools, saying, “Can we go back to education?” Governor Mills talks about the importance of educators, discussing how one of her parents was a Maine public school teacher, and then reinforcing the idea that every Maine student should have access to equal education. She highlights the struggles that the students and educators both had due to the pandemic, and claims that test scores had been declining since 2011 when LePage was in office. Mills then goes on to say that she plans on supporting after school programs and summer programs to assist the children and fill in the gaps that the pandemic had left. While LePage had expressed hesitation in the use of Zoom and virtual education, Mills was sure that any attempt at a solution was better than no attempt.
At that point, the two candidates were redirected back to LePage’s concern of reading material that was being presented to children. Mills explains that she doesn’t regulate any books, and that parents are always more than welcome to talk to their children’s librarians and teachers about the books that are available. The governor assures that schools are teaching the basics, such as reading, writing, history, science, and math. The book in question is called, “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe, which is a graphic novel that follows the author’s story on becoming comfortable in their gender identity. “I respect the school administrators and teachers who are taking the brunt of this at these kinds of accusations,” Mills said. “We have a hard enough time recruiting good teachers and retaining good teachers. I want them to be able to teach what they feel is appropriate in this classroom and what the local school boards feel is appropriate.”
The question of how the two feel about LGBTQ people in the state of Maine came up while debating about the issue of the book. Governor Mills made it clear that LGBTQ individuals should feel welcomed in the state when she said, “I respect you. I want you to be informed, and I want you to be educated in the best way possible. I don’t want you to have, you know, a good life here in Maine.”
As the debate came close to the end, the candidates were given the opportunity to ask each other a question. First, LePage had asked Mills about her decision to ban investments in fossil fuels in Maine, asking if she either was unaware of the impacts of her actions, or if she wanted to force the people of Maine to buy electric cars that they are unable to afford. The governor assured that the bill in question did not ban fossil fuels, and that her objective is to “wean us off” fossil fuels. She claims to be providing alternative sources of energy to heat homes in Maine, alternative energy sources, and renewable energy. Mills also stressed that she is very opposed to the idea of drilling for oil off the coast of Maine. “I can’t think of anything more dangerous to the fisheries and to our coastal communities than oil rigs and oil spills alongside the coast of Maine,” Mills said.
Janet Mills had a chance to ask LePage a question as well, asking him if he would have rejected federal funding for the job recovery plan that Mills is working on currently. LePage’s response was, “It would depend on where the money goes.” He admitted he has problems with the workforce development that has been occuring in Maine, went to court over it, and lost. “What I was trying to do is put more money into the actual training of people rather than the overhead of the workforce development county agencies, which were taking as much as half of the money,” the former governor said. Mills then focused on LePage rejecting around $2 billion worth of federal funds for issues from healthcare to forestry legacy programs. LePage was unable to comment due to time constraints.
For the final few minutes, the candidates gave their closing remarks. “It is about leadership,” Mills said, referring to how she had opened the debate. “Sure, we have challenges ahead. I know that. But in me you will find a governor who listens, who tells the truth, who works to fight problems, not people.”
It’s important to be aware of the issues in your community, and to be informed about the people on your ballots. Make sure you exercise your right to vote and have your voice heard. You could change the course of Maine’s future. To find information on who’s on your ballot, to get registered to vote, and locate dropboxes, go to www.usa.gov/election-office, or www.vote.org.