Second governor debate focuses on education, economy

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UPDATED – 11:48 a.m.

WATERVILLE (AP) — A day after their first debate, the three candidates in the hotly contested race for Maine governor reunited on Thursday at a forum dominated by education and economic issues.

Because Republican Gov. Paul LePage, Democrat Mike Michaud and independent Eliot Cutler were given the questions ahead of time, the debate was mostly laid back as candidates detailed their views on the effect of a proposed east-west highway or more charter schools in Maine.

But it wasn’t without heated moments.

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Michaud vowed to get rid of the “extravagant vacation package” LePage has given to political appointees and staff and “demeaning” A-F grades handed out to public schools.

Discussing the way LePage’s administration has borrowed for infrastructure projects, Cutler said “Maine is being run like a five-year-old would run a lemonade stand.”

LePage, who signed charter school legislation into law in 2011, said he wants to scrap the 10-school cap in Maine, calling the charters “the greatest thing that has happened.”

“The only bad thing about charter schools in the state of Maine is that we were the 41st state to do it,” LePage told the crowd of more than 300 at Thomas College in Waterville.

Michaud said he’s concerned about the financial impact charter schools are having on traditional public schools. Cutler also said he wouldn’t immediately increase the number of charter schools in the state.

The candidates were also divided over whether they supported a long-debated privately-funded highway that would provide a direct route across the state and connect the Canadian provinces of Quebec and New Brunswick.

LePage said he supports the concept, while Michaud said he’d rather build an east-west rail system. Cutler said the first thing Maine should do is “fix the roads we have.”

While the debate was mostly civil, LePage, Michaud and Cutler made sure to take some jabs at their opponents. There are three more debates scheduled this month ahead of the Nov. 4 election.

Asked in the lightening round about their favorite Maine entertainer, Michaud said: “I guess my favorite entertainer that actually keeps me laughing is Gov. Paul LePage.”

LePage criticized Michaud’s often-repeated argument that he’s the only candidate with a bipartisan track record, telling the Democrat “it’s easy to work across party lines when you do nothing.”

And after his two opponents stood to deliver their closing statements, the governor said he’d remain seated.

“I’m not going to stand because I don’t like looking down on people,” he said.

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