Maine's Four Candidates For Governor Square Off In First Debate Forum

Sep 12, 2018

The four candidates running to become Maine’s next governor participated in their first forum in Lewiston Monday night. The event was hosted by the Lewiston-Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and accordingly focused on a slate of business and economic issues.

The candidates used the hourlong event to make the case for why they have the best plan to reverse the state’s outmigration of younger, skilled workers.

The candidates sat side by side for the first time and knew most of the questions in advance. There was no verbal jousting, and even though polls show that front-runners Janet Mills and Shawn Moody are deadlocked, both refrained from any direct attacks.

Moody, a Republican who started a successful chain of auto body repair shops as a teenager, repeatedly highlighted his business experience. He also talked about his company’s philosophy of apprenticing young workers.

“The proudest thing is, four or five years later, with coaching, mentoring and training, we’re signing a letter of recommendation to a credit union or a bank so they can buy their first home,” Moody said. “That’s exactly what Maine needs right now.”

Democrat Mills focused on how state government should play a role in updating the state’s infrastructure, including broadband access. She also appeared to make a distinction between how her administration would promote the state and attract businesses, compared with the approach she says has been taken by Republican Gov. Paul LePage, who was once accused of scuttling an offshore wind project.

“I will be the promoter-in-chief, the recruiter-in-chief and the closer-in-chief. And when we cut a deal with a business who wants to locate here, we don’t pull the rug out from under that deal two months later or a year later. We stick to our word. Our word is our bond. That’s the kind of people we are. That’s the kind of governor I will be,” she said.

Independent Alan Caron was also critical of LePage, and compared the governor’s marketing of Maine to a restaurant that highlights its failed food quality inspections and tells customers to serve themselves. Caron also criticized LePage’s rhetoric and policies about legal immigrants, who he said are vital to bolstering the state’s workforce and its future economy.

“We are better than this,” he said. “Change is hard. We have to embrace change and we have to embrace new people, and they’re not all going to look just like everybody else. And we shouldn’t care, really, what they look like, what their first language is or even who they worship. We should care that they want to help us build a brighter future.”

Caron and fellow independent Terry Hayes are polling in the single digits, but neither has had the spotlight of a party primary, and surveys show many Maine voters are undecided.

Caron and Hayes used the forum to share their personal and professional stories. When asked about improving the state’s poverty rate, Hayes talked about her own experience growing up poor. She said state programs aren’t the only answer.

“Keep in mind that you don’t need a program to make a difference. They can help, but it’s not necessary,” she said. “You can do this on your own in some small way and it will matter. I would suggest that myself, but my five siblings are proof of that.”

Weighing in on Maine’s new law legalizing the adult-use of cannabis, Moody said he stands in opposition, but that he has supported Maine’s medical cannabis program.

“My grandmother had breast cancer and that was the only drug, or medication, that would relieve her nausea. I was mortified because my grandmother was on marijuana back then,” he said.

Moody said voters jumped the gun when they supported legalization because there’s no effective test for driver impairment.

Mills said the law voters approved two years ago was deeply flawed and required a drastic overhaul by the Legislature, but that she supports legalization if it’s properly regulated.

“I’m not opposed to adult-use, recreational marijuana — not opposed to it all. You’ve got to do three things with marijuana,” she said. “Test it, track and tax it. That sounds pretty simple.”

Independents Terry Hayes and Alan Caron also supported the legalization initiative.

Caron said legalization came 30 years too late, but he warned that the state should make sure cannabis is never marketed to children.

“They will do what others in the tobacco industry and other industries have done, which is try to market to children. They will. Let’s be ready for it. Let’s make sure that can’t happen,” he said.

Hayes said more must be done to regulate the burgeoning industry’s finances, given that cannabis is still considered illegal by the federal government and therefore largely a cash business.

“We can figure this out in a way that’s productive for Maine and it’s my intention to help us do that,” she said.

Monday’s forum was largely a polite, low-key affair. But the race for governor is to beginning to heat up, with political advertising by interest groups and the candidates themselves just now hitting the airwaves and the web.

That means Mainers could see a very different scene when the four candidates take the stage in early October for a debate hosted by the Portland Chamber of Commerce.

Maine Public will host a live debate with all four candidates on Oct. 28, 2018, from the Gracie Auditorium at Husson University in Bangor.

Originally published Sept. 11, 2018 at 6:01 a.m. ET.