This week in Maine politics: Oct. 2, 2022

Differences over issues grow more stark, amid evidence that incumbent Gov. Janet Mills is playing it safe.

by | October 2, 2022

The race for the Blaine House intensifies ahead of the first debate with gubernatorial candidates this week. Photo by Andrew Howard.

Today, we continue a periodic compilation of reporting on the state’s politics leading up to the Nov. 8 elections.

Maine Public’s Steve Mistler and Kevin Miller, in this analysis, argued that Democratic Gov. Janet Mills is playing it safe and her Republican challenger, former Gov. Paul LePage, is trying to make as much news as he can. 

“With several polls now suggesting Mills has a decent-sized lead over LePage, the incumbent appears to be running like she’s ahead while also doing the usual governor stuff — which in her case is almost daily announcements of millions of dollars for this or that popular initiative,’’ the Maine Public reporters said. “LePage, meanwhile, is on offense. And while independent Sam Hunkler is popping up around the state, his nearly zero-budget campaign doesn’t appear to be generating much of a buzz.’’

Writing in their Political Pulse newsletter, Mistler and Miller point out that LePage has had press conferences on schools, the drug crisis, and a Maine paper mill over the past two-plus weeks.

Voters will get a chance to see the candidates on Tuesday at 8 p.m. in the first of four scheduled debates. The Portland Press Herald is asking readers to submit a question here.

The debate is sponsored by the Press Herald, Lewiston Sun Journal and Maine Public. A livestream will be available at pressherald.com.

The issues 

Mainers got a closer look at the policies of the gubernatorial candidates on key issues over the past week, including immigration, farming and the drug crisis. 

The Press Herald published a detailed look at the differing approaches Mills and LePage have taken to immigration.

In sum, the Press Herald wrote, “LePage sought to limit the flow of immigrants to the state during his eight years in office, cutting public support for noncitizens seeking asylum and ending the state’s participation in refugee resettlement.’’

Mills, when she took office, reversed those policies, “supporting public assistance for legally present noncitizens and speaking out about the importance of welcoming immigrants, migrants and asylum seekers as both an economic and moral imperative,’’ the Press Herald reported.

Meanwhile, at an Agricultural Council of Maine forum in Augusta, LePage had a sharp response to a farmer’s point that the industry was operating efficiently.

“I don’t agree that you are as productive as you can be,” LePage said, according to the Bangor Daily News. “When I see two-thirds of the potato crop going to a landfill on table stock, I don’t think that’s productive.”

Also last week, LePage held a news conference in Portland to blame Mills for Maine’s drug problem. 

“Crime in Portland is out of control,” LePage said. “The drug trade is driving people out of the city and destroying the way of life for too many Maine families. Janet Mills is fueling the crime and drug crisis in Maine.”

Mills’ spokeswoman said the governor has focused on prevention and harm reduction, supporting overdose reversal medications and needle exchange programs.

An estimated 636 people died of overdoses in Maine last year, marking the 12th highest percentage increase in the US. 

The politics of guns and court appointees 

The Monitor’s Caitlin Andrews reported on the NRA’s endorsement of LePage — and a slight improvement in the gun lobby’s eyes for Mills. 

The NRA endorsement praised LePage for being against needing a permit to carry a concealed weapon, opposing gun and magazine bans and a promise to “work tirelessly” to increase mental health resources and school security. 

The last time she ran, Mills got an “F’’ from the NRA — and boasted about it. This time, the NRA gave her a “C.’’

And in another story, the Monitor found concern among housing advocates that the Supreme Judicial Court could soon make it easier for banks to go after homeowners who are struggling to pay their mortgage.

The court has asked for amicus briefs as it weighs whether to reconsider its precedent on housing and mortgage law. 

Mills has appointed four of the justices and could end up appointing all seven justices if she is re-elected.

More on LePage’s property taxes

The New York Times’ Sept. 24 scoop on LePage’s Florida property tax break continued to reverberate across the gubernatorial campaign. 

He denied he did anything wrong, but seemed to acknowledge the potential political damage in an interview with the Portland Press Herald. 

“The article is so wrong,” LePage told the Press Herald. “But it is what it is. And I’ll just have to deal with it. If it costs me the election, it costs me the election. ” 

The Times reported that from 2009 to 2015, and also from 2018 through the end of this year, LePage and his wife Ann received property tax breaks on their Florida properties that were reserved for permanent Florida residents.

The former Republican governor, who is seeking a return to office for a third, non-consecutive term, told the Press Herald that his wife, Ann, remained a full-time Florida resident when he moved back to Maine in 2020. 

“I have been in Maine for two years,” LePage told the Press Herald. “My wife came up this year. We have been living apart because I wanted to make sure that I was in Maine and people didn’t say, ‘Oh, he’s a carpetbagger.’ In 2019, I was in Florida. At the end of 2019, I moved back to Maine.”

Money race

Mills widened her lead over LePage in campaign fundraising, according to the Bangor Daily News. 

“The Democratic governor’s campaign said it raised $994,000 between July 20 and Sept. 20, bringing Mills’ campaign-long total to roughly $4.8 million so far in the race. LePage, a Republican, reported raising $442,000 during that period and just over $2.2 million overall,’’ the BDN reported Tuesday.

Maine Public noted, however, that Mills and LePage had about same amount of money in the bank — Mills had just under $1.5 million and LePage reported $1.3 million on hand.

Independent campaign finance guy Darren Fishell has been tracking the data all season. His site is here. One pie chart that’s worth a look: the in-state and out of state funding snapshot shows Mills getting a larger portion of her donations from outside of Maine. Big donor states to Mills include California, New York, and Massachusetts.

Congressional debate

The three candidates for Maine’s second congressional district faced off in a debate last week, sparring over the economy, inflation, and abortion.

It was the only full fledged debate of the campaign, which features Democratic US Rep. Jared Golden, former Republican Congressman Bruce Poliquin and Independent Tiffany Bond.

Maine Public, in its account of the debate, said that Poliquin “badgered Golden for supporting the the Inflation Reduction Act, claiming that it will tax oil production.’’

Golden responded that the bill was meant to boost domestic oil production, which presumably would be beneficial amid rising costs of heating fuel. 

“That bill puts a tax on foreign oil on countries like Russia, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia. These are not countries that we want to be energy dependent on going into the future, so taxing imports from those countries is going to help prop up American energy production,” he said.

The Bangor Daily News noted that the candidates also sparred over immigration, with Poliquin borrowing a tagline from former President Trump. 

“I believe in securing the border, standing up for Maine first, America first,” he said, repeating the slogan made famous by Trump, “and my opponents do not.”

Golden is a swing vote in Congress who often breaks with his fellow Democrats. The Bangor Daily News said he has supported border security funding and said undocumented immigrants are “depressing people’s wages.”

 

David Dahl, editor of The Maine Monitor, can be reached by email at: david@themainemonitor.org.

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David Dahl

David Dahl

Veteran journalist David Dahl serves as the editor of The Maine Monitor, overseeing its daily operations. David was most recently a deputy managing editor at the Boston Globe. Before joining the Globe, David worked for 20 years at the St. Petersburg Times. He was a Nieman fellow at Harvard University and a fellow at the Sulzberger Executive Leadership Program at Columbia University. He has also been an adjunct professor of journalism at Emerson College, Boston College and Boston University. David and his wife, Kathy, enjoy tennis and kayaking at their home in Friendship. They have two adult children.


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