With just two weeks to go to Election Day, Gov. Janet Mills and Paul LePage clashed over pocketbook issues on Monday in the third debate of the governor’s race, staking out different positions on who is to blame for inflation and the value of the $850 tax rebate checks.

LePage, a former two-term governor who experienced homelessness as a teen in Lewiston, told viewers of the televised debate hosted by WGME-TV and the Bangor Daily News that he knew what it meant to struggle with high grocery, electricity and heating oil bills.

“She hasn’t made it better, she’s making it worse,” LePage said. “Maine can’t afford Janet Mills. We’re in a recession. We’re heading for a disaster. In 2010, I took over in a recession and I fixed it. I’ll fix it again.”

If elected, LePage said he would put money aside to help Mainers offset the projected high cost of home heating oil in what is likely to be a long and extremely cold winter. He said Mills should have used $250 million of Maine’s budget surplus for heating aid instead of rebate check gimmickry.

He also vowed to suspend diesel and gas taxes through the winter and roll back the state’s income tax to prevent Mainers from retiring to Florida and taking their wealth, knowledge and capital with them. But LePage did not say how he would pay for these massive cuts.

Mills said she has no control over international events that have rocked global markets, including the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which she called the bread basket of two continents. Mills said she worked with Republican state lawmakers to provide $850 in inflation relief to most Mainers.


“What I can do is help put cash back into the pockets of Maine people and that’s what we did,” she said. “In fact, it was a Republican idea and I said, ‘That’s a good idea.’ … And that money is going to put oil into people’s tanks. People write me every day saying thank you for the $850 checks.”

If reelected, Mills said she will work with the next Legislature to direct heating oil assistance to Mainers to get through this winter and continue work on Maine’s climate action plan to diversify energy sources. Maine is too reliant on fossil fuels, which is dangerous to its environment and Mainers’ wallets, she said.

“If you want the reason why prices are so high, look at my opponent,” Mills said. “He didn’t diversify.”

But LePage criticized the checks as another example of Mills using federal stimulus money to her benefit.

“This governor spends money like a drunken sailor,” said LePage, who then stopped to clarify. “The only difference between Janet Mills and a drunken sailor is that a drunken sailor spends his own money.”

Mills responded: “There is no gimmickry involved here at all. It’s unbelievable to suggest that giving people money to help fight inflation, which is one of the best inflation relief measures in the country … the people know better.”


With a shake of the head, LePage said: “I don’t know which economics school you went to, but putting money in a hot economy only drives up inflation, not lower it.”

Mills responded: “People need cash in their pocket now.”

While the pocketbook dominated Monday’s debate – the rising cost of living was named one of the top three issues facing the state by 70 percent of all respondents in a recent poll – Mills and LePage tackled other issues as well, including abortion, lobstering and education.

The candidates defended their previously stated abortion positions – both say they wouldn’t change the state law that protects a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy up to about 24 weeks – but it is unclear if LePage may have changed his position on taxpayer-funded abortions.

LePage, who said he prefers adoption to abortion but considers Maine’s law a good compromise that he would not seek to change, said “I oppose taxpayer funded abortion” made available to everyone, like we do for education, but also, “if they qualify for Medicaid, and their doctor does an abortion, that is fine.”

“I am pro life and yes, I prefer adoption over abortion, but I’d never attempt to change the law,” he said.


Mills pounced on LePage’s hard-to-understand abortion positions and told the viewers that they couldn’t trust LePage on this issue, noting that he has stood side-by-side with anti-abortion groups for years. She said he reminded her of another public figure who promised one thing and then did another.

“The last man I heard say those kinds of words was a guy named Brett Kavanaugh, who told the U.S. Senate and our own Sen. (Susan) Collins that he would never change precedent,” Mills said. “And as soon as he got on the U.S. Supreme Court, he voted overwhelmingly to overturn Roe.”

Both candidates said they stand with Maine’s lobstermen to stop enactment of new federal right whale protections that could cripple the lobster industry. LePage said Mills should’ve led the fight to stop the rules, but Mills said Maine is doing all it can, including hiring the best law firm in the country.

LePage said Mills failed the lobstering industry by supporting offshore wind exploration in the Gulf of Maine, which lobstermen say will threaten their fishing grounds. Mills said she only supports wind projects outside of state waters that are found to be compatible with fishing.

Earlier in the debate, Mills noted that LePage used to support drilling for oil off Maine shores, which is something that Maine lobstermen vigorously opposed. She said  she hoped he no longer supported that position. LePage responded: “I’ll go where the oil is, period.”

Mills, the Democratic incumbent and former Maine attorney general, is seeking a second term. LePage, a Republican, served eight years as governor before stepping down, blocked from trying for four more by term limits. He sat one out and is now seeking a third term.

Independent Sam Hunkler of Beals is also on the ballot, but did not participate in Monday’s debate because he did not meet the minimum standard of polling at 5 percent or higher in a public poll. As of Monday, Hunkler has yet to poll above 2 percent.


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