Following Tuesday’s primary elections, the governor’s race between incumbent Janet Mills and her predecessor Paul LePage is official. Along with independent Sam Hunkler, they’ll be on the ballot this November.

Paul LePage and Gov. Janet Mills Press Herald photos

After four years away, LePage promises not only a more conservative path for the state but also a more chaotic one. The question before Maine voters isn’t only about political philosophy but also about making sure government works as well as can be.

No one knows this more than the former governor himself, who started his campaign by promising “LePage 2.0,” a kinder, gentler version of himself that would be more focused on issues and less on bombast and bullying.

The rebranding is necessary because of the wake of frustration and discontent LePage left behind him upon leaving office in 2019. The former governor treated everyone as an enemy, and every policy he opposed as the end of the world.

After years of fighting in all directions, even with members of his own party, LePage left everyone exhausted. Clearly, many of those who would have to work alongside LePage are not particularly eager to have him back, even if they agree with him on policy.

That’s why LePage is intent on softening his image. In recent months, we’ve seen LePage headline the opening of the Republican Party’s new multicultural center in Portland — the same man who as governor put down immigrants and people of color at every turn.


Is this the same person who said civil rights icon John Lewis should thank white people for ending slavery, or who told people to “kiss my butt” if they didn’t like him skipping an annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day event?

Is this the same person who caused a problem out of thin air by removing a labor mural from the Department of Labor? If re-elected, will he still interject himself where he pleases, interrupting good work in areas such as land conservation and health care, even after voters have said what they want out of their government?

Will he again reject hundreds of millions of dollars of federal money for Maine, including funds for fighting hunger, sexual assault, and domestic violence, just to prove some vague and vacant point?

Will he again chase away investment that doesn’t fit his worldview, as he did with the $120 million Statoil wind farm? Will he wave away PFAS contamination in the same way he did for BPA in water bottles, saying it was no big deal if women grew “little beards” because of the chemical?

Will he stumble and bluster state government into a pointless shutdown, as he did in 2017, or get in the way of bipartisan problem-solving, as he did often, most glaringly in 2018?

The time under Gov. Mills has not been perfect. But the governor and the Legislature this year worked together to pass a bipartisan budget with ideas from both sides, and the last four years have seen government make headway on some difficult problems, including housing, clean energy and school funding.

There are no doubt many Mainers who don’t see it that way, and who would be happy to see LePage return to the Blaine House. For a lot of them, the former governor’s aggressive style is a big part of the allure.

Others, however, have to ask themselves: After they’ve seen what can be done when the governor favors competence and compromise, do they want to go back to discord and disorder?

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