Gov. Janet Mills and former Gov. Paul LePage clashed on management styles, child protection, COVID-19 vaccines and economic issues during a gubernatorial debate Thursday, their final face-to-face meeting before voters go to the polls Tuesday.

Gov. Janet Mills listens to students at Central Maine Community College in Auburn talk about their college experiences on Tuesday, November 1, 2022. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Mills accused LePage of telling his commissioners not to speak to legislators or the media during his two terms in office and said he fired his budget director for not following that order.

LePage denied that he ordered them not to speak to the media, but said he told them they had to notify him if they did so. He said he fired the official because he didn’t follow those instructions. “You’re a boss. You like to know what your people are up to,” LePage said.

Mills said she trusts her cabinet members and doesn’t micromanage them. “I never instructed them not to talk to anybody,” she said. “It’s not middle school, it’s state government.”

LePage did limit staff testimony before legislative committees during part of his time in office, requiring lawmakers to submit requests and written questions to his commissioners and himself. He also said then that officials would only appear before committees to clarify the administration’s written responses.



Mills defended her decision to require health care workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19, saying hospitals asked for the mandate and that patients deserve to know health care providers are vaccinated.

But LePage said COVID vaccines shouldn’t be required along with other vaccines that are because they haven’t stopped the spread of the virus. “With COVID, you can have two shots and two boosters and catch COVID twice,” he said.

Health care officials have said the vaccines have reduced the risk of infection and protect people against severe symptoms if they do get infected.

Both candidates said they do not support requiring public school students to be vaccinated against COVID.

Management of the state budget and economy continued to be a point of contention between the candidates as it has throughout the campaign.

LePage also once again blamed Mills for inflation, saying Maine’s economy is a disaster. “Maine can’t afford Janet anymore, ” he said. “Are you better off today than you were four years ago?”


Mills argued that a governor can’t solve global inflation, but that she has worked to help Maine people cope with rising prices, including with $850 relief checks to all taxpayers. “I brought the parties together to put money back in your pockets,” she said.

Former two-term Republican Gov. Paul LePage speaks at Dysart’s truck stop in Hermon on Wednesday. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Mills called out LePage for telling his supporters that she had spent all of the state’s cash reserve, or rainy day fund, after LePage had built it up.

“Au Contraire,” Mills said. “Nothing could be further from the truth. We’ve quadrupled it, and we’ve used the ongoing surplus to give money back to the people of Maine.”

While Mills credited her fiscal management as the reason for the surplus, LePage said that was only possible because the state and municipalities received $15 billion in federal funding during the pandemic. He noted that the state was in the worst recession since the Great Depression when he took office in 2011 and that he didn’t have the benefit of billions in federal spending, saying he “had to earn it.”

“Despite what she says, I built and left an enormously good economy,” he said. “She inherited $15 billion and now she’s claiming it was her fiscal management.”



The candidates also clashed over child protective services, which has been in the spotlight because of child deaths during each of their administrations.

LePage, who fled an abusive home and became homeless at age 11, said that he supports a proposal from Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, to create a standalone agency to oversee child protective services independent from the Department of Health and Human Services, which he said is “too big.” He criticized Mills for opposing that proposal, accusing her of not understanding the reorganization proposal.

“Trust me, Janet, I understand accounting and I understand that Maine’s child protective service agency is broken and needs to be fixed,” LePage said.

Mills said she worked with the Legislature to increase staffing in child protective services and highlighted issues within the department under LePage, saying that calls about suspected abuse went unanswered and abuse increased.

“We’re doing everything we can,” Mills said. “I don’t think building a new bureaucracy is going to help the problem. We’re working with the Legislature, across the aisle, to make things happen to make sure no child suffers abuse at the hands of a caregiver ever again.”

The debate was hosted by Maine’s local ABC affiliates: WMTW, WABI and WAGM.


The candidates debated four other times, sparring over issues such as abortion, inflation and the economy, energy  and the lobstering industry.

LePage has taken an increasingly aggressive posture in the debates, as public polls since September have shown Mills in the lead. Such polls, however, are simply a snapshot in time and can understate the amount of a candidate’s support, especially in a rural state like Maine. National observers have predicted a close race.

Mills, the first woman elected governor and a former Maine attorney general, is seeking a second term. LePage, her predecessor, served eight years as governor before stepping down, unable to seek reelection because of term limits. He sat one out and is now seeking a third term.

The two have clashed for years, including a series of public battles when LePage was governor and Mills was attorney general.

Independent Sam Hunkler of Beals is also on the ballot, but did not participate in the debate Thursday. The only debate to include all three candidates was the first one hosted by Maine Public, Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram and the Lewiston Sun Journal, which did not have a minimum polling standard.

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