The four Republicans hoping to win their party’s nomination in the governor’s race squared off in their final televised debate Thursday in Augusta, just five days before voters head to the polls.

And while the candidates found ways to disagree Thursday, they were in lock step on the most key conservative issues, including guns, abortion, welfare and election reforms like ranked-choice voting.

They said little to criticize Gov. Paul LePage.

State Senate Majority Leader Garret Mason, the youngest candidate in the race at 32, said he disagreed with LePage’s notorious resistance to making the overdose antidote naloxone – known by its brand name Narcan, more accessible.

“I believe that it has been proven to save hundreds of lives over the last couple of years,” Mason said. “And when you are dealing with something that severe and when you are dealing with an addiction, if you can give somebody one more shot, I’m OK with that and in this case I mean that quite literally.”

The candidates offered substantially different approaches to confronting the state’s opioid crisis, which on average claims one life a day in Maine. Mason said as governor he would open an office of faith-based programs and seek to expand treatment that way.

House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, of Newport, said he would focus on law enforcement, including adding to the ranks of the State Police and the state’s Drug Enforcement Agency. Fredette, an officer in the Maine Air National Guard, also said he would bring the National Guard into the fight. “Not with guns and bullets,” Fredette said. But so they could use their expertise and equipment to help stem the flow of deadly opioids into Maine.

Gorham businessman and auto body entrepreneur Shawn Moody said he believed more focus on education and prevention is needed.

“The best way to not get on booze, to not get on smoking, to not get on drugs, to not get on welfare,” Moody said, “is to never try it and to never get on it, then you don’t need to get off it.”

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Former state health official Mary Mayhew said her focus would be on programs that allowed people in recovery to continue to work.

“Think about the policies and programs that have destroyed human dignity, paid people not to work, left broken families, people leading unproductive lives,” said Mayhew former commissioner of the state Dept. of Health and Human Services. “We’ve got to stay focused on how do we also restore the independence, the strength and the convictions that individuals have to be productive citizens.” She said current programs were not producing those results.

The debate held on the Augusta campus of the University of Maine and hosted by television station WMTW News 8 was peppered with spicy moments including an early exchange when Mason charged Moody with being disrespectful to young campaign workers Mason has recruited to Maine. Moody quickly denied it, saying he believed he had been the most cordial and respectful candidate to staff workers on all the campaigns.

“So why you would think I would single anybody out to not be cordial or respectful is just laughable, it really is,” Moody said.

But Moody, the only true political outsider in the race, was clearly in the cross-hairs of the other candidates as they touted their respective ties and alignment with LePage – even though many of LePage’s top political advisers, including daughter Lauren LePage and long-time political consultant Brent Littlefield, now for Moody’s campaign.

The candidates also revealed some personal details about themselves Thursday. Mayhew noted her position on abortion changed from pro-choice to pro-life after the birth of her son, who was born prematurely. He is now a 23-year-old healthy adult, she said. “It dramatically changed my views on life and abortion,” Mayhew said.

Moody said he changed his view on medical marijuana after his grandmother, “Nana Moody,” used it as she was dying from breast cancer to help regain her appetite. Still, Moody said, he was opposed to the commercialization of recreational marijuana.

All four candidates stood firm on gun rights, even straying from President Trump’s position in saying they would not ban bump stocks, which can be used to turn a semi-automatic rifle into a weapon that fires nearly automatically. All four also said they believe the outcome of the primary next week, the first statewide race to use ranked-choice balloting, will ultimately be decided by the courts.

“This is going to the law court one way or the other,” Fredette said. “That’s just the reality.”

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 713-6720 or at:

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