Republican gubernatorial candidate Paul LePage’s decision to blow off the second-to-last debate of the campaign is unacceptable and insulting to the people he wants to serve as Maine’s chief executive.

This isn’t the first time LePage has skipped a public forum. Earlier in the campaign, he exhibited some annoying — but at that time understandable — choosiness about the forums he attended. We didn’t criticize him then because we knew the schedule of debates would intensify as the campaign progressed, and assumed that pressure from the public and his fellow candidates would persuade him that participation was unavoidable.

We did criticize Democratic candidate Libby Mitchell for ditching some earlier debates, but that was in large part because of her disingenuous rationale: She said she wouldn’t take part in any debates excluding long-shot independents Shawn Moody and Kevin Scott, as a matter of principle.

doing so, she robbed voters of the opportunity to see her mix it up with the other leading candidates in the give-and-take atmosphere of a debate.

LePage has done the same with his sudden withdrawal from Thursday night’s debate at Bates College in Lewiston. The forum was hosted by the Maine Public Broadcasting Network and broadcast live on television, radio and the Internet.

All four other candidates — Mitchell, Moody, Scott and independent Eliot Cutler — were scheduled to participate.

LePage’s reason for bailing out of the debate — that his time would be better spent chatting with voters on the campaign trail — strikes us as every bit as strained as Mitchell’s cop-out.

This also provides an ironic twist on LePage’s current campaign tour, called “People before politics,” because LePage is using the excuse of meeting with people for the purpose of executing a clear political manuever to avoid debating his foes.

The MPBN debate offered LePage easy access to a statewide audience across a variety of media platforms; in short, a chance to reach the greatest number of possible voters in the shortest amount of time — about an hour.

There was nothing he could have done in that 60 minutes to trump that exposure. Either he thinks he doesn’t need it — as the polls suggest — or LePage fears what could happen in the spotlight’s glare.

Arrogance or cowardice are poor qualities in a governor, however.

Even more than the loss to voters of a chance to evaluate LePage’s candidacy in the closing days of the campaign, what distresses us most about his bailout is what it says about LePage’s philosophy about his obligations to the public.

If he is elected, will he pick and choose when he’ll face citizens and taxpayers of Maine? Will he flee from public scrutiny when the mood strikes? Will he govern behind closed doors when accountability makes him uncomfortable?

The governor of Maine — a state where direct democracy thrives like nowhere else in America — must be visible, accessible and approachable. If LePage doesn’t understand that, he is hopelessly unsuited for the job.