Gov. Janet Mills and former Gov. Paul LePage came out swinging in a gubernatorial debate in Portland on Thursday night with time running out before the Nov. 8 election.

LePage was aggressive from the start, blaming Mills and Democrats for inflation and saying he has the experience and business background to fix the state’s economy, as he says he did when first elected in 2010. He also criticized Mills for building up the state’s workforce after he spent years reducing the payroll.

“The fact of the matter is the economy is not doing well,” he said. “I left you a lot of money and you spent it in 10 months.”

Gov. Janet Mills and Former Gov. Paul LePage meet again for a gubernatorial debate at Maine State Chamber of Commerce’s 2022 annual meeting on Thursday at Holiday Inn by the Bay in Portland. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

When Mills countered LePage about the state of the economy and state budget, he interrupted. “You’re lying,” he said.

“I’m speaking,” said Mills.

“All talk and no action,” LePage continued.


During one heated exchange about the economy, LePage said that Mills may be an attorney, but “you’re one hell of a bad economist.”

That prompted Mills to fire back, “I’ve spent the better part of my career listening to loud men talk tough to disguise their weaknesses. That’s what I’m hearing tonight from Mr. LePage. And that’s what I heard for eight years from Paul LePage.”

The debate, sponsored by News Center Maine and the Maine Chamber of Commerce, comes with less than two weeks until Election Day and as candidates are honing their closing arguments for voters.

Former Gov. Paul LePage said that Gov. Janet Mills may be an attorney, but “you’re one hell of a bad economist,” during a gubernatorial debate on Thursday in Portland. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

LePage sought to cast Mills as a poor steward of the state budget and economy, saying she benefited from billions of dollars in federal spending stemming from the pandemic. Mills, meanwhile, sought to focus on leadership style and bipartisanship, reminding the audience of LePage’s divisiveness and frequent battles with the Legislature, including members of his own party.

At one point, Mills asked LePage whether he would have turned down any of the federal money coming into Maine, accusing the former governor of turning away $2 billion in federal funding for health care, medical research and other uses during his eight years.

“It would depend on where the money goes,” LePage replied, citing federal workforce training funds he rejected because he felt too much was spent on administration. “If it’s just a nonprofit that’s going to create more jobs for your friends, then no.”


The candidates had several exchanges over the Mills administration’s response to the pandemic. LePage criticized Mills’ vaccine requirement for health care workers, saying it was “cruel” and “absolutely inhumane” to fire health care workers and first responders who refused to be vaccinated before the holidays in 2021.

Gov. Janet Mills accused Paul LePage of turning away $2 billion in federal funding for health care and other uses during his eight years as governor at the debate on Thursday in Portland. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Mills said the mandate was based on the advice of medical experts, including the hospitals and health care providers, as they struggled to control a rapidly spreading virus. She said Maine has received high marks for its response, with one of the highest vaccination rates and one of the lowest death rates, even though Maine is one of the oldest states in the nation.

LePage also pointed to a recent report about student test scores dropping during the pandemic as a Mills administration failure, saying he would not have been so quick to shift to online learning early in the pandemic or require children to wear masks. While the report shows tests scores dropping across the country, Maine scores showed some of the largest declines. Mills countered that students across the country struggled academically during the pandemic, including schools that remained open.

Both candidates said they would not support requiring students to receive the COVID-19 vaccine to attend public school.

In response to a viewer question about gun violence in schools, Mills said she worked on a bipartisan basis to fund a school safety center, which is traveling the state to assess the safety of school buildings. She also pointed to the state’s yellow flag law, which allows for someone’s firearms to be confiscated if they are deemed a threat to themselves and others.



LePage said he supports school resource officers, while also removing “gun free zone” signs around schools.

“I believe that law-abiding citizens should have the ability to protect their families and our schools,” he said.

Former Gov. Paul LePage said he supports school resource officers during a gubernatorial debate on Thursday in Portland. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

LePage repeated his criticism that Mills was advocating “an extreme woke agenda” in the schools. When pressed about whether a controversial book about gender identity should be removed from libraries, LePage said “the book is fine” and that “I’m not suggesting the books be taken out. … “Just give parents the ability to have a say.”

Mills said parents already have a say – they serve on elected school boards, participate in public meetings and are welcome to discuss curriculum with school staff. “We have a culture of local control and I value that tradition, which does give parents a voice,” she said.

In response to a question about the $850 checks that were sent to taxpayers, LePage said he believes that he and his wife each received one and cashed them.

“So you filed an income tax return for Maine?” Mills inquired.


“Yes, I always have,” LePage said.

LePage, who opposes the checks, has had his residency questioned during the campaign.

After leaving office in 2019, he became a resident of Florida, in part of avoid paying income taxes in Maine. He moved back in 2021 to prepare to run for governor. However, he and his wife continued to benefit from a property tax program available only to Florida residents through this year, according to Florida officials.

Mills, a Democrat, is seeking a second term in office while LePage, her Republican predecessor, is seeking an unprecedented non-consecutive third term as governor. The two have clashed for years, including a series of public battles when LePage was governor and Mills was attorney general.

Independent Sam Hunkler of Beals also is on the ballot but was not invited to participate in the debate Thursday. He also was not invited to some previous debates because he failed to demonstrate enough support in public polls.

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