Democratic Congresswoman Chellie Pingree squared off with Republican challenger Ed Thelander on Wednesday in their second and final televised debate.

Both candidates spent about 30 minutes answering questions about a wide range of topics that included inflation, promoting baseless social media myths, and their support for the Maine lobster industry. News Center Maine’s Pat Callaghan, who also serves as the station’s anchorman, acted as moderator. There are just under three weeks left before the Nov. 8 election.

Ed Thelander and Chellie Pingree File photo

For the most part, the so-called Voice of the Voter forum turned into less of a debate and more of an opportunity for the candidates make their views known.

The candidates were asked how best to deal with the challenges facing the state’s lobster fishery, challenges caused by North Atlantic right whale protections that are in the process of being imposed by the National Marine Fisheries Service. Both candidates live in fishing communities.

Pingree, who lives on North Haven, said Maine lobstermen believe they have been unfairly targeted by federal regulators as the cause of the decline in the population of endangered North Atlantic right whales, which now number about 340. She said there has not been a verified whale entanglement since 2004. She attributed whale deaths to ship strikes and Canadian fishermen.

“We certainly believe that we should not be targeted as the fishery that is causing right whale deaths,” Pingree said.


Thelander, who lives in the Lincoln county town of Bristol, said he’s concerned that the lobster industry could shut down in the next few months if nothing is done to solve the problem.

“We need to really need to focus on the problem, and right now the problem is (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration),” he said.

“Hey, let’s protect the right whale, but if we are looking at our lobstermen, who are not the problem, then we are not protecting the right whale,” Thelander said.

During their first debate, Thelander apologized for comparing NOAA to child rapists at a rally for the lobster industry.

Asked about inflation and its effect on oil and gas production, Thelander said the United States needs to start pumping oil again. He said the oil industry won’t build refineries because of the threat they could be shut down.

“And every time there is that threat, oil prices go up,” he said.


“Certainly, during the pandemic, unrelated to this inflationary period that we’re in, many of the of oil and gas companies cut way back on their refinery capacity,” Pingree said. “They were looking at their own bottom line and saying people aren’t traveling, aren’t using gas. Some of this is just playing catch-up, and you don’t turn it around overnight.”

Pingree denied there was a longterm threat to the oil industry. She said savvy companies are planning for the future by investing in renewable energies.

“The fact is, there are record-breaking profits that (oil and gas companies are) making right now. We’ve tried to stop price gouging in Congress and haven’t gotten support from the Republicans,” Pingree said.


Callaghan posed a question from a viewer who wanted Thelander to answer why he repeated baseless social media myths during his campaign. One of those myths was that litter boxes are being put in school bathrooms to accommodate “furries” – people who dress in animal costumes. Since then, Thelander said he no longer believes that litter boxes are in school bathrooms, and that it was a mistake to bring it up.

“I’m talking to folks all over, left, right and in the middle. I’m hearing things from both sides. They’re scared, concerned, they want to hear something, they want an answer to it and they are not getting it. What I heard sounded very valid. Hey, I was wrong,” Thelander said at Wednesday’s forum.


Pingree also responded to the question about the dangers of repeating false conspiracy theories and debunked social media myths.

“I think that is one of the big challenges we’ve been facing in the last few years, partly because of social media and partly, frankly because the former president, who thought it was OK to say whatever he wanted to on a Twitter account, and did not recognize the fact that when you hold one of these positions you hold a level of responsibility to make sure you know the difference between the truth and what’s not true,” Pingree said. “That’s a big challenge in our country right now and we all have to be held to a higher standard to make sure we are talking about the truth.”

Pingree has easily defended her seat over the years. In 2020, she won reelection with 62% of the vote, and her district is heavily skewed toward Democrats.

The geographically smaller of the state’s two congressional districts, the 1st District covers the southern coastal area of the state. It includes all of Cumberland, Knox, Lincoln, Sagadahoc, and York counties and most of Kennebec County. Portland, Augusta, Brunswick and Saco all are located within the district.

Pingree, 67, lives on North Haven, an island in Penobscot Bay. A former state senator, Pingree challenged Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins in 2002, but lost that race.

Before winning her congressional seat in 2008, Pingree was president and CEO of Common Cause, a national nonprofit with a mission of being a watchdog on government. She has three grown children.

Thelander, 53, a former Navy SEAL, served in the Navy for 21 years and participated in U.S. operations in Afghanistan, Kosovo, Central and South America, Southeast Asia and the Caribbean, according to his campaign website.

Thelander lives in Bristol, with his wife Liliana, who immigrated from Venezuela and became an American citizen in 1999. They have three children.

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