Maine’s 4 gubernatorial candidates vie for public’s support

Maine gubernatorial candidate Democrat Janet Mills, far left, speaks during a debate with fellow candidates Independent Alan Caron, second from left, Independent Teresea Hayes, and Republican Shawn Moody, Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018, at the Augusta Civic Center in Augusta, Maine. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Maine’s four gubernatorial candidates on Wednesday tried to make their case with voters with weeks to go before the Nov. 6 election.

Independent state treasurer Terry Hayes, independent entrepreneur Alan Caron, Republican businessman Shawn Moody and Democratic Attorney General Janet Mills appeared at a gubernatorial forum in Augusta held by the Maine State Chamber of Commerce. The candidates hope to succeed term-limited Republican Gov. Paul LePage.

The candidates agree that LePage steadied finances in this aging, rural and economically sluggish state. But there’s also unanimity that the governor’s office needs a change of tone after LePage’s combative style and distrust of the press.

“This governor gets an F grade for communication,” Caron said.

Outside groups have waged negative ads attacking disfavored candidates this campaign season in Maine, where national Democratic groups are spending millions hoping to flip the governor’s mansion and state Senate.

But the candidates themselves have been largely civil in public forums. Still, an exchange over governmental transparency between Moody and Mills drew applause and jeers from the audience Wednesday.

The moderator asked candidates whether they would be more open to communicating to the press and public than LePage has been as governor. “I’ll take the door off the hinges, how about that?” Moody said.

Mills then asked Moody to release his tax returns.

Moody is the only candidate to decline to share his tax returns. He defended his decision Wednesday, claiming that doing so would release confidential information about his employer-owned business, Moody’s Collision Centers.

Mills said Moody should release tax filings for his real estate company, Real Estate Holdings LLC. “That would be a start,” she said.

Moody then chided Mills for having sought an extension on her 2017 tax returns.

The candidates Wednesday also shared details of their policy proposals.

Mills, a long-time LePage foe, wants to fight Republican President Trump’s policies alongside other state attorneys general. She reiterated Wednesday her calls for more grants and loans to spur broadband projects. Mills said she’d reverse LePage-era cutbacks to public food assistance.

Moody wants to make more progress on LePage’s goals of cutting red tape, bureaucracy and state funding for school administrators. Moody, who has drawn criticism in recent weeks for warning at a gubernatorial forum that “it’s important not to overreach” about climate change, pledged support Wednesday for renewable energy companies and voluntary carbon footprint reduction goals.

Hayes said solutions to Maine’s pressing issues shouldn’t be partisan. She questioned why Maine hasn’t spent its federal funding designated for low-income children. Hayes also said a statewide teacher contract could preserve local control while allowing for collective negotiation of wages and benefits.

Caron criticized fellow challengers for pledging to spend more money on problems. He said there must be more focus on growing the economy or shrinking the size of state government.

“This is the easy part of campaigning,” Caron said.

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