Gov. Janet Mills answers a question during a debate with former Gov. Paul LePage at the Eggs & Issues breakfast hosted by the Portland Community Chamber of Commerce in Portland on Thursday, October 6, 2022. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Gov. Janet Mills stood in front of an audience of Portland-area business leaders Thursday morning and took credit for quadrupling Maine’s rainy day fund, stabilizing state government, boosting education funding and creating the state’s first economic plan in at least a decade – all without raising taxes.

“That’s pretty good governing, I think,” Mills said.

Standing next to her, former Gov. Paul LePage said the state’s economy is broken, drug overdoses and child mortality rates are rising and Portland has seen a spike in crime, all of which he blamed on Mills. He dismissed Mills’ fiscal achievement as a result of timing.

“This governor has been very, very fortunate that COVID came because with COVID came nearly 15 billion from Uncle Joe,” LePage said, referring to pandemic relief funding from the Biden administration. “That’s where the surplus comes from.”

Gov. Janet Mills said her economic plan and management of the state’s budget helped the state weather the pandemic better than most parts of the country during a debate with former Gov. Paul LePage in Portland on Thursday. At right is moderator Quincy Hentzel, CEO of the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Mills, the Democratic incumbent, and LePage, a Republican who has served two terms as governor, spoke Thursday morning during a debate sponsored by the Portland Community Chamber of Commerce. The forum was the second debate in three days and one of at least four the two are scheduled to participate in before voters go to the polls Nov. 8 to select the next governor.

Independent candidate Sam Hunkler of Beals was not invited to participate in Thursday morning’s debate based on low polling numbers, the chamber said. But Hunkler shared the stage with Mills and LePage on Tuesday. That 90-minute debate was aired live and can be watched at It covered a wide range of topics and included some heated exchanges between Mills and LePage on issues such as abortion, the economy, the state budget and immigration.


The debate Thursday focused heavily on economic issues, such as tax policies, housing and the workforce shortage.

Mills said her economic plan and management of the state’s budget, including restoring positions cut from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, helped the state weather the pandemic better than most parts of the country. “Thank God we got to do that before the pandemic hit us. We had the reserves and we had the people power to fight back against this pandemic,” she said.

Besides arguing that Mills has hurt the economy, LePage criticized her management of the COVID relief money and the decision to use some of the funds to provide $850 relief checks to Maine residents. “She’s trying to buy the election. What she should have done is lower the income tax,” he said.

Former Gov. Paul LePage took aim at Portland during the debate Thursday, calling it a “concrete jungle.” Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

LePage also took aim at Portland during the debate, calling it a “concrete jungle” and saying that its parks only get cleaned up on the morning before he holds a news conference. Last month, the city cleaned Deering Oaks park before LePage spoke there about the opioid epidemic and its impact on crime, although city officials said the cleanup was planned before they knew he was coming.

The former governor once referred to rural and northern parts of the state as “real Maine,” in another apparent dig at Portland. The city is a Democratic stronghold that overwhelmingly supported Mills in 2018.

Thursday’s debate came the day after federal regulators held a hearing in Portland about new rules to protect endangered right whales from fishing gear entanglements. Both Mills and LePage spoke at the hearing, with LePage receiving a standing ovation before his remarks and Mills drawing some jeers.


The Mills administration has intervened in lawsuits challenging the new regulations on behalf of lobstermen, but LePage accused Mills on Thursday of not doing enough to stand up for fishermen.

“The lobster industry is under attack,” LePage said during the debate. “The governor should be leading the charge, not being an intervenor.”

Mills replied by saying that she was the reason officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration were in Portland to begin with.

Gov. Janet Mills said flatly that she does not support a local option tax on Thursday. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

“The reason NOAA was here last night to hear from the fishermen is because I told them: ‘Get up here and listen to the fishermen’ and they did,” she said.

The chamber debate in Portland included a lightning round, in which the moderator read a statement and asked the candidates say whether they agree or not in a sentence or two.



A response from LePage is bound to generate attention. The statement was: “The state should provide financial support to municipalities to help with homelessness and the arrival of asylum seekers.”

“Absolutely,” LePage said. “I actually (believe) that if asylum seekers are here, and Joe Biden is not going to enforce federal law on immigration, instead of sending them to Martha’s Vineyard, I want them to put them to work.”

The remarks stand in sharp contrast to LePage’s record as governor. During his eight years in office, he repeatedly sought to reduce state funding for Portland’s homeless shelters and fought to make asylum seekers ineligible for General Assistance.

Former Gov. Paul LePage said the state’s economy is broken, drug overdoses and child mortality rates are rising and Portland has seen a spike in crime on Thursday. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

As recently as this summer, LePage incorrectly referred to asylum seekers as being “illegal immigrants,” when in fact they are allowed to remain in the country until their asylum applications are decided. And he said this summer that he would again seek to eliminate asylum seekers from receiving GA.

But Republicans are looking to make inroads with immigrant communities here and nationally by opening multicultural centers, like those in Portland and Lewiston. And business leaders are increasingly vocal about the role asylum seekers, many of whom are trained professionals in their home countries, and other immigrants can play in helping to address workforce shortages in Maine, which is one of the oldest states in the country.

Mills noted how she supports efforts by the state’s congressional delegation, including Republican Sen. Susan Collins, to allow asylum seekers to work within 30 days of applying for asylum, rather than six months.


“It is only appropriate that we help people who want to be here and expedite their work permits as the four members of Congress and I have demanded that Congress do,” Mills said.


Both candidates also were asked in the lightning round about whether they would support allowing counties and municipalities to enact a local option tax – something that Portland has been pursuing for years.

Mills said flatly that she does not support such a tax.

“No, we don’t need to,” Mills said. “I have talked with many members of the county commissions and municipalities and mayors and expressed my views pretty bluntly over the last three and a half years.”

LePage, who has campaigned on cutting taxes, said he would support a county-level option tax as long as schools are consolidated and the cost of administration is addressed.

“I will say this: If we take our education system and we get the bricks and mortar under control and we deal with our administrative costs and we move towards a county system, I would favor a county option tax,” LePage said.

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