This Week in Maine Politics: Oct. 9, 2022

Abortion, taxes and donations were the most talked about election topics in Maine over the last week.
A crowd on a street in Portland rallies in support of the woman's decision to have an abortion. Many are holding signs, including one that reads bans off our bodies.
In the first gubernatorial debate, former Gov. Paul LePage stated he would not sign a bill to ban abortion after 15 weeks. Abortion is currently legal in Maine through viability, or about 28 weeks. Once thought of as a "pro-life" supporter, LePage said he supports current law. Photo by Rose Lundy.

Today, we continue a periodic compilation of reporting on the state’s politics leading up to the Nov. 8 elections.

Quality time for the candidates

The two major party candidates in the Maine governor’s campaign spent some time together over the past week, at the first debate on Tuesday, then at a federal agency meeting on lobster lines on Wednesday evening, and then at a joint appearance before the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce on Thursday.

At Tuesday’s debate, LePage surprised many by stating he would not sign a bill to ban abortion after 15 weeks. Abortion is currently legal in Maine through viability, or about 28 weeks. 

The former Republican governor, once thought of as a “pro-life” supporter, said Tuesday that he supports current law. That shocked conservatives.

Karen Vachon, executive director of Maine Right to Life, told the Associated Press that she was disappointed by LePage’s answer. “It is very disturbing that he wouldn’t support a ban after 15 weeks,” she said.

Maine Public noted that LePage “appeared flustered, frustrated and at times confused’’ about reporters’ questions on abortion restrictions. 

“I don’t know what you mean by 15 weeks or 28 weeks,” LePage said when asked about potential abortion bans starting at 15 weeks of pregnancy. “I don’t know. I mean, I’m not sure I understand the question.”

Mills seized on the opening.: “I understand the question … I would not let such a law become effective. My veto pen will stand in the way of any restrictions on the right to abortion.”

Another heated moment came when Mills linked LePage to former President Donald Trump’s Muslim ban. 

LePage has sought to distance himself from Trump, his one time ally, this year. He insisted he had never supported Trump’s proposed ban. “Janet Mills, you are a liar,” LePage said.

The Press Herald reported, however, that Mills was correct. When LePage was governor, and Mills was Maine’s attorney general, they disagreed on whether Maine should file a legal brief in support of the policy. “LePage supported Trump’s plan, while Mills opposed it,’’ the Press Herald reported.

Also on stage Tuesday was Sam Hunkler, who has qualified for the ballot and is running as an independent.

On Thursday, at an event hosted by the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce, LePage suggested Mills benefited politically from the pandemic because the federal government injected billions of dollars in relief money into Maine’s state budget.

“This governor has been very, very fortunate that COVID came because with COVID came nearly 15 billion from Uncle Joe,” LePage said, according to the Press Herald. “That’s where the surplus comes from. That’s why we got the $850 rebate. She’s trying to buy the election. What she should have done is lower the income tax.”

Nearly 2,600 people in Maine have died from COVID, according to the New York Times count of cases.

At the Portland event, LePage also described the city as a “concrete jungle’’ and referred to an earlier campaign event at Deering Oaks Park. City workers had cleared homeless people from the park before his campaign event, leading to suspicions that the city was attempting to deprive him of a foil.

“Deering Park is not safe for you to bring your children,” LePage told the business group Thursday, according to Maine Public. “It actually took a press conference in order to clean up the park for one day. Should I visit every day?”

LePage and Mills also attended a hearing Wednesday night to support lobstermen and others opposing proposed new rules to protect endangered right whales.

What new taxes?

The Maine Monitor’s Caitlin Andrews took a closer look at LePage’s remark that he would have gotten rid of new taxes during the pandemic and rerouted the money to help lower diesel taxes. 

We found some tax cuts, but no tax increases. Read more here.

Here’s what LePage said: 

“I would take a look at suspending all taxes that were put in place since the pandemic,” he said. 

“You might suspend them until we reach an inflation rate of 2 percent.”

After the debate, the LePage campaign clarified the statement was also meant to encompass regulatory fees, pointing specifically to the law that bans single-use plastic bags and charges consumers for 5 cents for a carry-out bag. That law was passed in 2019 and slated to go into effect in the spring of 2020, but was pushed back for over a year during the coronavirus pandemic.

Issues: election deniers, leadership of universities

In the latest in their series on issues facing the state, the Press Herald looked at LePage’s past statements on elections.

For example, according to the Press Herald, before the 2016 election that ultimately sent Trump to the White House, LePage told radio listeners he was “not confident of a clean election in Maine” and claimed “people from the cemetery” would vote. There’s no evidence of widespread election fraud in Maine. 

The Washington Post included LePage and GOP congressional candidate Bruce Poliquin in their account of the 299 candidates who have at one time or another denied or questioned election results. 

The Bangor Daily News, meanwhile, reported that UMaine Chancellor Dannel Malloy would likely be gone if LePage returns. He would prefer to see Leigh Saufley, dean of the University of Maine School of Law and the former chief justice of Maine’s high court, replace him, the BDN reported. 

Prominent donors line up behind Mills and LePage

The Portland Press Herald reported that the campaigns of Janet Mills and Paul LePage have pulled in money from well-known donors.

LePage’s campaign has received money from radio host Howie Carr, conservative activist Linda Bean, and the Quirk family, which owns car dealerships.

Mills has received money from Illinois Gov. Jay Pritzker, members of the Rockefeller family, artist Jamie Wyeth, Lee Auto Malls President Adam Lee, philanthropist Melinda French Gates, philanthropist Roxanne Quimby and big Democratic donor Donald Sussman.

Congressional campaign donations

The Washington Post, in an article about Democrats’ worries they will be outspent by Republican megadonors in House campaigns, mentioned the race between Democratic Rep. Jared Golden and Republican Bruce Poliquin.

“Republicans have reserved more than $3 million more in television ads than Democrats for the period between Labor Day and the end of the campaign, according to AdImpact. (House Majority Pac) has no reservations for two weeks in October in the district, compared to about $1 million in (Conservative Leadership Fund) spending planned for the same period.’’

The Cook Political Report rates the race a tossup.


David Dahl is the editor of The Maine Monitor. He can be reached by email:

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David Dahl

Veteran journalist David Dahl serves as the editor of The Maine Monitor, overseeing its daily operations. David was most recently a deputy managing editor at the Boston Globe. Before joining the Globe, David worked for 20 years at the St. Petersburg Times. He was a Nieman fellow at Harvard University and a fellow at the Sulzberger Executive Leadership Program at Columbia University. He has also been an adjunct professor of journalism at Emerson College, Boston College and Boston University. David and his wife, Kathy, enjoy tennis and kayaking at their home in Friendship. They have two adult children.
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