A panel of journalists spiced up Sunday night’s televised Maine gubernatorial debate by asking a “unique” set of questions that instead of focusing on broad policy issues targeted individual candidates.

The hourlong debate, which was held at Gracie Theatre on Husson University’s campus in Bangor, also gave candidates the opportunity to ask questions of their opponents.

And the big question that has lingered for several days now – whether independent Alan Caron of Freeport would drop out of the race – was addressed.

Caron’s reply to the question about whether he would continue campaigning was met with a round of laughter. Last spring, Caron, who lives in Freeport, made a pledge to withdraw by mid-October if he saw no way of winning the election. He made the pledge in a March 23 op-ed column in the Portland Press Herald.

“I have been waiting patiently for many weeks for my opponents to get out of the race,” Caron said Sunday night, tongue in cheek.

Caron went on to say that he would make an announcement regarding his political future within the next few days. A limited number of polls conducted in the race show Democrat Janet Mills and Republican Shawn Moody vying for the top spot with Caron and independet Terry Hayes trailing far behind them – typically in the single digits.

Caron, whose campaign has been self-financed, said he offers bold ideas and a commitment to reducing the use of fossil fuels through his support of solar power.

While Hayes has promised to stay in the race until Election Day, Caron has come under increasing pressure to drop out in order to avoid the split electorate that lifted Republican Paul LePage to victory in the 2010 governor’s race with just 38 percent of the vote.

Reporter Mal Leary, one of the Maine Public panelists at Sunday night’s debate, commented that Gov. LePage’s eight years in office had been marred with controversy. LePage rarely talks to the media and has been highly critical of the Legislature. Leary asked Moody – whose campaign manager is LePage’s daughter Lauren – if he would govern differently.

Moody took issue with the question, commenting LePage’s tenure “has also been laden with results.” Moody pointed to LePage paying off hospital debt and making the pension system solvent. Moody, 58, of Gorham founded Moody’s Collision Centers, a successful chain of auto body repair shops, 40 years ago, and said he has a track record of collaboration.

“When I show up on the job, good things happen,” Moody said. “I’m just going to be myself. I’m a collaborator. We’ll get along as long as we get ahead.”

Democratic and left-leaning voters have expressed concerns that the two independents could have a “spoiler effect” by siphoning off votes from Mills and setting Moody up for victory.

Hayes, is a Clean Election candidate from Buckfield. She currently serves as Maine’s state treasurer, and has shown no indication that she will drop out of the race. A former legislator, Hayes was asked how she proposed getting the parties to work together.

“It comes down to this: It’s a relationship business,” Hayes said. “You have to be able to work with other folks. We’ve had a Legislature that has been at war with the executive branch.”

Hayes vowed to meet with legislative leaders on a regular basis, if she is elected.

Republican Party ads have accused Mills of being a career politician. “Are you?” panelist Steve Mistler asked Maine’s attorney general, a former district attorney and state legislator.

Mills said she is proud of her career and for her efforts to protect the interests of Maine people.

“I feel public service is an honor and a privilege. I know I’ve tried to do my best,” Mills said. “As attorney general I’ve fought the good fight.”

She cited her involvement in a multistate settlement involving Volkswagen and its affiliates Audi and Porsche, in which the car manufacturers agreed to pay more than $157 million to 10 states – including $5.1 million to Maine – to settle lawsuits challenging the companies’ secret use of software that caused tens of thousands of tons of pollutants to be emitted into the air.

Candidates were also asked to state their positions on how they would address the state’s opioid epidemic, how they would attract more workers to Maine and their ideas for reducing health care costs.

Maine voters will elect a new governor on Nov. 6. LePage has been termed out of office and recently stated in an interview that he plans to get out of politics.

 

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