Republican gubernatorial candidate Paul LePage has declined to attend an Oct. 21 forum sponsored by the Natural Resources Council of Maine.
The other four candidates on the ballot will participate.
Dan Demeritt, LePage’s new press secretary, said the campaign had made an “internal strategic decision” not to attend.
“We’ve gone to like 60 of these,” Demeritt said. “We can’t go to every single one.”
LePage has taken heat from environmental groups for saying he supports offshore drilling in the Gulf of Maine and that environmental regulations have strangled business growth.
Asked if the campaign was avoiding the forum because it might be a hostile environment, Demeritt said, “Everything gets considered in these kinds of decisions. Paul’s a fighter and he wants to talk about creating jobs. After looking at the offers we had that day, clearly we thought we had better options to talk about creating jobs and taking on the establishment.”
The forum will be held from 7:30 to 9 p.m. at 88 Bedford St. in Portland.
Demeritt said LePage was attending events in Portland and Biddeford that same day. He said the candidate had a fundraiser at the same time as the debate.
Demeritt also stressed that LePage is a privately financed candidate and reliant on donations in a poor economy.
“It’s something that (Democratic candidate) Libby Mitchell, who has opted to spend public money on her campaign, doesn’t have to do," Demeritt said. “It would have been easier to collect $5 checks, but that’s not how Paul believes campaigns should be run.”
Mitchell's campaign director, David Loughran, criticized LePage's decision.
"Maine's environment is important to our economy and our quality of life," Loughran said. "Mr. LePage needs to explain his support for drilling in the Gulf of Maine, building a nuclear power plant and weakening our environmental protections.
"There is a big difference between Libby and LePage on environmental issues and voters deserve to hear those differences discussed. We hope Mr. LePage changes his mind and attends this important event."