Commentary: Mills vs. LePage race a study in contrasts

By Roger Bowen

She is from Venus, he from Mars. She is low-key, he can only hit screechy notes. She despises Trump, he says he was “Trump before there was a Trump.” She is modest, he is boastful. She is a policy wonk, he is indifferent or hostile to public policy.

She has deep experience in Maine politics, his first term revealed he hasn’t a clue about state government. She has shown herself open to bipartisan efforts to pass good policy, he once promised to veto every Democratic piece of legislation, regardless of its merits. She is Maine’s first female governor, he holds the state record for vetoing legislation. She favors giving all citizens access to the ballot box, he favors voter suppression.

She supports expanding health care for Maine’s poorest, he believes the poor must earn the right to health care. She favors a woman’s right to choose, he opposes abortion. She opposes the death penalty, he wanted to restore the penalty for child killers and drug dealers. She supports equal rights for the LGBTQ community and marriage equality, he opposed them. She recognizes the threat that climate change poses, he denies that climate change is real. She has seen the light about improving relations with Native Americans, he gave them short shrift.

She is the most popular politician in Maine, garnering over 60 percent approval earlier this year, while his public approval rating, never high, was just 39 percent at the time he left office after two terms. COVID, inflation and high gas prices have brought down her public support numbers, while the worst crisis he had to confront — Bush’s Great Recession — was deftly handled by the Obama administration. Today the race between them appears to be close. With no third, independent candidate in the wings, which he needed in order to win both his gubernatorial races, he will have to up his game considerably if he is to be competitive.

She will capture the lion’s share of the First District vote in November, he will likely win the Second District, but because a higher percentage of the population (64 percent) in the more liberal First District votes than in the Second District (54 percent), Mills should have the edge next fall.

I certainly hope so. LePage is the proverbial bull in the china shop, much like former President Trump, whom LePage clearly admires and has repeatedly supported. I suspect that when LePage left the Blaine House in 2018, he thought he had a solid chance to be chosen by Trump for a golden parachute of a job in Trump’s Washington. That did not happen, of course, and I suspect it did not because while candidate Trump appreciated LePage’s sycophantic support, Trump saw LePage for what he was in 2016 — an angry man hoping for a prestigious sinecure in Trump’s administration.

Yet the many Mainers who supported LePage, and most likely Trump as well, are not only the allegedly “forgotten people” whom candidate Trump brought into his base. Trump-LePage supporters include those who are alienated from politics and unschooled in democratic principles and practices. But these same people also are hard workers who receive meager compensation for their labors. These fellow citizens deserve good representative government no less than the sophisticates living in and south of Portland.

They would not get good government from LePage because LePage scorns the need for compromise and finding common ground with lawmakers from the other party. True, LePage’s hateful outbursts toward immigrants and people of color might act to confirm their own unconscious biases, but LePage’s pandering to the worst instincts in people will not solve the weighty issues Maine faces — climate change, underfunded schools and colleges, the demographic decline of rural areas where the dead each year outnumber the born, underdeveloped cyber communications, and the list goes on. Mills knows and understands such challenges, LePage has little or no interest in them.

Voters will have a clear choice in November. If every Mainer gives rein to their self-interests in good government, they will vote to re-elect Janet Mills; if, on the other hand, some Mainers prefer to be angry rather than well-governed, they will vote for LePage. I choose promise over pique.


Roger Bowen is a political scientist, a former selectman and lives in Prospect Harbor.

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