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Would a third LePage term be different? Republicans hope voters think so. Democrats say it's a farce

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Troy R. Bennett
/
BDN
Former Maine Gov. Paul LePage talks with the Rev. Darwin Vail (left) and Rose Masse at a campaign stop in Cumberland on Wednesday Aug. 31, 2022. LePage, the Republican nominee, is seeking a third, non-consecutive gubernatorial term.

With roughly two months before the November election, Maine Democrats continued their efforts to puncture a key claim by former Republican Gov. Paul LePage in his quest for a third non-consecutive term: That he's changed.

LePage's campaign has made a concerted effort to portray the 73-year-old former governor as a mellowed, more policy-focused version of the man who clashed with Democrats, fellow Republicans and the press during his two previous terms and who made national headlines for a canon of controversies that ranged from blaming people of color for drug trafficking, to leaving a profane voicemail for a Democratic lawmaker and later saying he'd like to challenge him to a duel with pistols.

It's a strategic effort designed to win over voters who may have soured on theatrics that LePage himself has compared to former President Donald Trump.

The Maine Democratic Party highlighted some of the previous controversies Tuesday during a news conference in Portland, but they also warned that LePage is deceiving voters, and they should be wary of policy proposals they say will be more harmful than his past conduct.

During the press conference, South Portland Rep. Lois Reckitt asserted that LePage and Republicans will restrict access to abortion if they can gain power in November.

"If we lose the majorities, we're in trouble," she said. "And if we lose the governor's race we're really in serious trouble. I was tempted to use an 's' word."

LePage has said that he has no plans to restrict abortion access but he hasn't said what he'd do if such a bill passed a Republican-controlled Legislature and required his signature.

He attended anti-abortion rallies during his two previous terms and the state's leading opponent of abortion, the Christian Civic League of Maine, considers him an ally.

While abortion is a rising topic of voter concern in the November election, Democrats said Tuesday that Maine voters should also worry about LePage's plans for public education and tax cuts.

Portland Rep. Mike Brennan warned that LePage's income tax cut initiative will be paid for with higher property taxes, cuts to state services and local education aid.

"Close to 80% of the budget is health and human services and education. So if you're going to be shifting resources from one place to another, it's going to come out of education, revenue sharing to support those type of income tax reductions in the state," Brennan said.

LePage has provided few details about his plan to cut the income tax, but he did manage to lower Maine's rate during his first term. A subsequent effort to lower it further was blocked by Democrats and Republicans, who rejected his proposed expansion of the state sales tax.

In a statement, Maine Republican Party chairwoman Demi Kouzounas called the Democrats' press event "newsless" while noting that several lawmakers who participated had sponsored a bill that would have increased fuel costs by putting a fee on carbon emissions.

"A number of the Portland progressives who spoke today pushed legislation that would have intentionally raised gas, diesel, and heating oil prices — that's who Janet Mills has on her team. There are clearly no new solutions for Janet Mills and her team of liberal career politicians — they believe complaining and higher taxes will solve their policy failures," Kouzounas said.

The bill died three years ago without any roll call votes.