U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin said Wednesday that to improve the country’s tax code, more needs to be done to close tax loopholes, even as he has come under fire in the past for taking advantage of tax loopholes in Maine.

Democrat Emily Cain, who is challenging Poliquin, a Republican, quickly leaped to attack the congressman’s statement in a debate on WCSH6 after he said, “First of all we need to close loopholes, and we need to have taxes that are lower.” Poliquin didn’t directly respond to Cain’s labeling of his statement as “hypocritical,” but the first-term congressman fought back throughout the debate, saying he supports fiscal responsibility and has worked across the aisle in Washington.

He also fired back that Cain is a “career politician” and “extreme liberal,” while criticizing her support of legislation that would have raised taxes, including a proposed carbon tax and expansion of the Maine sales tax.

The debate — the third and final between the pair before the Nov. 8 election — was streamed live Wednesday afternoon on the news station’s website and appeared on television again Wednesday night. It is also available on the station’s Facebook page.

The tax question was brought up early in the debate by moderator Pat Callaghan in the half-hour segment, which also included the candidates’ thoughts on the Affordable Care Act, immigration and the presidential election.

Cain, in response to the tax question, said she would like to close tax loopholes abused by the rich and cited her work in creating balanced budgets in Augusta.

“I want to make sure everyone is paying their fair share,” she said. “That’s why it’s so hypocritical to hear the congressman talk about taxes, because he himself has paid his taxes late 41 times.”

In August, The Associated Press reported that even as Poliquin has touted fiscal discipline, he and his real estate company were late paying taxes dozens of times, including after he won election to Congress in 2014. At the time, Poliquin dismissed the late payments and interest penalties that added up to about $1,000 as the “cost of doing business” and attributed them to his thorough review of transactions.

In 2012, Poliquin also came under fire for using the state’s Tree Growth Tax Program by placing 10 acres of his waterfront property in Georgetown into a program intended for commercial foresters. After moving the land into a different tax abatement program, Poliquin told the Portland Press Herald that the decision had nothing to do with inappropriate use of the Tree Growth program.

“It’s an unfair distraction to Georgetown municipal officials, my neighbors and me. End of story,” he said.

On Wednesday, Poliquin did not respond directly to Cain bringing up his late tax payments, but said later in the debate that “I’ve been trying to instill fiscal discipline during my two years in Congress” and said he supports legislation requiring the federal government to create a balanced budget.

The candidates also sparred over issues of energy, immigration and health care, with Cain saying she supports making changes to the Affordable Care Act to help small businesses afford insurance, while Poliquin said his focus is on making sure residents have choices for insurance and can buy policies across state lines.

On immigration, Cain said more needs to be done to keep Americans safe without jeopardizing the American dream, while Poliquin agreed that the No. 1 priority of Congress is to keep American families safe but criticized Cain for supporting the Obama administration’s Iran nuclear deal.

He also went after Cain on Wednesday night by tying her to Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, prompting a question from Callaghan about party leadership and whether Poliquin thinks Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has the character to serve as president.

Poliquin, who has refused on numerous occasions to comment on Trump, did not budge on the issue Wednesday. Poliquin dismissed the Trump question as a part of a “media circus” and instead talked about shoe manufacturing legislation and his work on bi-partisan legislation with Democrats rather than answer follow-up questions from Callaghan, including about recent comments made by Donald Trump Jr. criticizing Republicans who have not backed his father.

Cain, in response to a similar question about Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, said she supports Clinton because of her focus on growing the middle class and good jobs, and also said, “I’ve been very clear from the beginning about where I stand.”

In two earlier debates, Poliquin has shied away from questions about Maine’s voter referendums, saying he doesn’t want to tell voters how to vote, while Cain has said she feels it is important for voters to know where she stands on issues.

Asked at Wednesday’s debate about whether the federal government should adjust its law if Maine legalizes recreational use of marijuana, Poliquin again said he wouldn’t tell voters how to vote. Cain, who previously has said she opposes Question 1, called his response “another duck and dodge” and said in her closing remarks that a major contrast between the candidates is her willingness to answer questions. She said she thinks that if Maine legalizes marijuana, the federal government should adjust its laws so that the state is not out of compliance.

During the debate, Poliquin also took aim at Cain’s support for state legislation in 2007 that would have introduced a weight screening process in public schools as a way to collect data on childhood obesity trends, citing it as an example of her belief in intrusive “big government” that violated privacy between children and parents. The National Republican Congressional Committee has released ads attacking Cain over the failed legislation by suggesting it would have body-shamed teenage girls. Cain defended the legislation Wednesday, saying it would have been confidential data gathering and had a “100 percent opt-out provision for all parents … no questions asked.”

“Bad idea, Pat,” Poliquin responded.

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm


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