Maine Republicans heaped praise on President Trump while lambasting Democratic Gov. Janet Mills on Thursday at a media event at Moody’s Collision Center in Gorham.

Gov. Paul LePage, former 2nd District U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, 2018 Republican gubernatorial nominee Shawn Moody, Falmouth real estate agent David Jones and business owner Pete McVety attended the campaign-style forum, which was sponsored by the Trump Victory re-election campaign and the Maine Republican Party.

A crowded Democratic field is competing to win the nomination to take on Trump in the 2020 general election and two of the candidates’ campaigns had events in Maine on Thursday.

Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, was holding a fundraising event at the State Theatre in Portland on Thursday night. Earlier in the day, the campaign of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders held an event at the nearby Mechanics Hall.

LePage said that while Mills has worked to reverse gains made under his administration – which lasted from 2011 to 2018 – the “Trump economy” is helping businesses and workers across the country.

“The economy in the United States and here in Maine is red hot. The economy is on steroids,” LePage said.

Moody, who lost the governor’s race to Mills in 2018, said that the Trump tax cuts have resulted in about 6 percent lower overall business taxes, which allows him to distribute higher profit-sharing checks to his workers.

“That was a huge shot in the arm to us,” Moody said.

But Mario Moretto, a spokesman for the left-leaning Maine Center for Economic Policy, disputed the Republican characterization of the impact of the Trump tax cuts.

“The Trump tax cuts were a blunt instrument to deliver hundreds of billions of dollars to the wealthiest households and large, profitable corporations. None of supporters’ rosy economic predictions have come true: The tax cuts have not paid for themselves. Promised raises and bonuses for workers never materialized while stock buybacks soared,” Moretto said in an email.

But Poliquin said under Trump businesses can more easily reinvest and are now “more competitive with other countries.”

“It wasn’t more than a few years ago workers in the state of Maine couldn’t find employment,” Poliquin said. “What’s happened is that in the last 2½ years at the federal and the state level we’ve created a new positive business climate.”

The Republicans also spent time criticizing Mills, who took over from LePage in January.

Moody said the Mills administration is “tone deaf” and not willing to invest in vocational education.

“We’ve turned our back on blue-collar Maine,” Moody said.

LePage critiqued Mills for permitting construction workers to claim unemployment in the offseason, which he said reduces their incentive to take on second jobs, such as delivering home heating oil.

However, Jessica Picard, Maine Department of Labor spokeswoman, said that there hasn’t been any change in Maine policy to qualify for unemployment, including for construction workers.

Meanwhile, Moody said that with Greater Portland experiencing an influx of hundreds of asylum-seekers from Africa, he would like to see the federal government permit the asylum-seekers to start working more quickly. Moody said that could help ease Maine’s workforce shortage.

Under federal law, asylum-seekers, who are in the United States legally and fleeing oppressive or dangerous conditions in their home countries, have to wait at least six months before starting work.

If national Republicans embraced that idea, it could be an area of bipartisan compromise. A bill submitted by Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, would cut the waiting period before asylum seekers can work from six months to 30 days. The bill  has some high-profile sponsors, such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, but has not attracted Republican co-sponsors.

“In many parts of the country, businesses are desperate for workers,” Pingree spokeswoman Victoria Bonney said in  a statement. “In the 1st District of Maine, many employers have told our office they are considering shortening operating hours for lack of staff. Many are looking to recruit workers from the immigrant communities in Maine, but their ability to do so is hampered in part by a two-decades-old law.”

LePage also endorsed Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who is considering running for re-election in 2020.

“She will run again. She will win,” LePage said. The Collins re-election race is listed as a “toss-up” by the Cook Political Report.

LePage has not always praised Collins. In 2017, after Collins was one of only three Republican senators to buck her party to vote to preserve former President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, LePage wrote that Collins and Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, were “so busy seeking the national limelight, they are ignoring the people in their own state.”

When LePage, after criticizing Collins, lobbied the senator to change her vote on the ACA, Collins told reporters in September 2017  that she welcomed “input from all my constituents.”

 

 

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