The primary election campaigns for governor are entering their most intense and visible phase, with many of the candidates appearing regularly in debates and forums across Maine.

On Tuesday, the Bangor Daily News is teaming up with CBS affiliate WGME to present a forum that is expected to include all seven Democratic candidates. In advance of that, we reached out to each candidate with five questions about major issues facing Maine.

Here are their responses, which have been lightly edited for clarity and space.

Gun rights

How would Maine balance gun ownership rights and public safety under your administration?

Mark Dion: “My public record is clear. I sponsored the state’s first universal background check bill. This session’s red flag bill is an initiative that strikes a conscious balance between the 2nd Amendment and a community’s safety interests. As governor, I would always work to ensure that proposed firearm legislation is both prudent and reasonable.”

Betsy Sweet: ”I would balance the rights by instituting universal background checks, an assault weapons ban, waiting periods for purchasing, and limits on magazine size. This would protect public safety while also allowing responsible gun owners to own and purchase firearms for personal protection and hunting.”

Diane Russell: “Smart hunters don’t go hunting with trigger-happy people so why would we put weapons of war in the hands of violent people? I support universal background checks, red flag laws and bans on AR-15-style weapons, bump stocks and high capacity magazine clips. These are common-sense policies that will reduce gun violence and ensure that the reputations of responsible gun owners don’t get lumped in with mass murderers and domestic terrorists.”

Mark Eves: “For too long the NRA has had a stranglehold on our government, scaring politicians of both parties into silence and inaction. We can ban assault weapons, bump stocks, and large magazines and we can have background checks on every gun sale, without limiting gun owners’ ability to hunt or defend themselves.”

Donna Dion: “With my limited experience pertaining to guns, I do feel: a) We should respect individuals’ 2nd Amendment [rights], but respect the individuals’ rights to feel safe. b) Terminate the manufacturers’ ability to sell assault weapons, bump stocks and high-capacity magazines to the public. c) Work at establishing a buy-back program that can be implemented over a number of years. d) Establish an extensive background check, which should involve the utilization of a database which has been developed by the accumulation of information from all state and federal agencies.”

Adam Cote: “I am a strong supporter of the Second Amendment, but I will bring all stakeholders together in the first 30 days of my administration and provide the leadership required to take effective action. … We should ban high-capacity magazines that turn any gun into what most people think of as assault weapons. We should also ban bump stocks. … Anyone who wants to buy a gun needs to show they are not a danger to themselves or others, which means effective background checks — and anyone who wants to carry a gun needs to demonstrate they know how to use it safely and responsibly. … I support my primary opponent Mark Dion’s legislation to create a temporary way that law enforcement or concerned individuals could petition a court to remove guns from individuals who present a danger to themselves or others. … We also need to provide funding to make our schools and students safe; make sure parents and guardians know what resources are available for young people (or anyone) in crisis; and look at whether our culture is desensitizing young people to violence and what we can do about that.”

Janet Mills: “I support common-sense regulations on military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and support a ‘red-flag’ law to keep guns away from dangerous people. But to accomplish any of these goals will require an experienced leader that can bring law enforcement officials, sportspeople and advocates to the table. That’s how I helped pass landmark legislation to keep guns away from domestic abusers, and that’s what I’ll do as governor.”


What is your position on reproductive rights? Do you support any taxpayer-funded abortion services?

Janet Mills: “As attorney general, I’ve always stood up for reproductive rights, from opposing the Trump administration’s rollback of the ACA contraception requirement, to protecting women going to Planned Parenthood from harassment and abuse. As governor, I will continue to fight for a health system that makes affordable and high-quality care available to everyone, including access to contraception and reproductive health services.”

Mark Dion: “I support a woman’s right of choice involving reproductive health care. Currently, low-income women are being denied the free exercise of that right under existing MaineCare rules. This conflict is now before the courts. If the case leads to a legislative remedy, granting a subsidy to women in these circumstances, I would sign such a bill into law.”

Betsy Sweet: “I am 100 percent pro-choice and have been my entire life. Yes, I support state funding to ensure low-income women have full access to abortion and reproductive services.”

Diane Russell: “I strongly support reproductive rights for women. The best way to reduce abortions is to lift up the economic circumstances for women. However, abortion should be safe and legal, and I have no issue using taxpayer funds for low-income women to receive abortion care.”

Mark Eves: “Any woman should have an unfettered right to whatever reproductive health care they need. It’s none of my business, and it’s not the business of any politician in Augusta or Washington. Abortion services should be treated no differently than any other health care service, regardless of how it is funded.”

Donna Dion: “I support promoting contraception and birth control, safe and legal abortions but not late-term abortions. I support education and support for healthy pregnancies for the mother and child. For schools, I support and encourage comprehensive sex education. I believe women have the right to choose what they do with their bodies. My choice would be not to have an abortion.”

Adam Cote: “I fully support, and have always fully supported, a woman’s right to make her own health care and reproductive decisions. I do not believe it is my place or the place of any politician to interfere with a woman’s personal medical decisions. I will defend Planned Parenthood. I will defend Roe v. Wade, and I will stand steadfastly with friends and allies in the women’s health community to oppose federal and state efforts to restrict a woman’s right to make her own health care decisions or to cut funding for women’s health care. … We must make sure every woman, regardless of her income, has access to safe, quality health and reproductive care somehow, either through public-private partnerships or public means.”

Taxpayer-funded health care

Medicaid expansion is predicated on the Affordable Care Act remaining in federal law. What would you do to ensure fair access to affordable health care in Maine if the law is repealed or further limited?

Adam Cote: “It should not be repealed or further limited — and we need a strong, Democratic governor to stand up and make that clear. There are 37 other states, including 17 with Republican governors who have implemented the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid expansion. … It is the ultimate in irresponsible behavior for Republicans in Washington to repeal something as essential as health care delivery without having proposed a workable replacement. Hopefully, we will have a new, Democratic House of Representatives and a new Democratic governor of Maine and we can work toward to real goal, which is quality, affordable health care for every Mainer.”

Janet Mills: “I strongly support the Affordable Care Act, and have gone to court to defend it from the Trump administration’s unconscionable attempts to undermine it. In the awful event of the ACA’s repeal — or even if the ACA remains intact — I also believe we should consider working with other states (such as Vermont and New Hampshire) to form an interstate insurance compact to offer single-payer health care to Maine people.”

Mark Dion: “ACA is the law of the land. Repeal efforts are unlikely to return any time soon. We should, however, explore a public purchase option for MaineCare as a strategy to expand access to affordable health care, in addition to the expansion authorized by the voters in November 2017.”

Betsy Sweet: “As governor, I will fight to keep Obamacare in place and for the state to fully implement MaineCare expansion, as per the will of the voters. Additionally, I will implement a single-payer health care system, regardless of whether the Affordable Care Act remains in law, in order to ensure every Maine resident gets affordable coverage.”

Diane Russell: “I don’t believe the ACA goes far enough. Under my administration, we will have a single-payer Medicare for All system for all ages and incomes. Health care is a human right and an economic imperative.”

Mark Eves: “Medicaid expansion is the law of the land, regardless of the status of the ACA. That’s what the Maine voters overwhelmingly approved last year. Though I’m hopeful the ACA will be preserved, we have a responsibility to follow the law here regardless. If this federal money is no longer available, we’ll have to find alternative revenue streams, including the possibility of other federal funds. Our neighbors’ health care is too important.”

Donna Dion: “If further restrictions occurred I would provide leadership and set a tone that educates the public to the cost benefits of keeping and encouraging accessibility to medical coverage. Individuals can develop appropriate care plans to address any chronic illnesses, minimizing the severity and repeating care visits needed to remain a healthy participant in our communities. It has been proven from past experience that the expansion allows early access to preventive health care visits and assist individuals with addictions early access to comprehensive care plan focusing on the patients full needs to assist them to recovery.”


Are the requirements in Maine’s citizen initiative process appropriate? What changes, if any, would you support as governor?

Donna Dion: “I do not believe any changes are needed, we have seen recently a greater number of citizen initiatives, which seemed to have evolved from the appearance of a lack of a voice in the course of important changes in Maine. It is a tool that is appropriate and can bring a consensus, but in state regulations it seems that if there are insufficient state funds available, or the initiative did not specify a specific state funding source, for the initiative to be implemented, it can be delayed. I believe the lack of sufficient funding becomes an interpretation from the current administration. The results have been seen way too often. The initiatives are being held and delayed. As governor, I would work at making sure we minimize the number of initiatives and make sure we collaborate with the people we serve to evaluate the financial means to address their request.”

Adam Cote: “The Maine Constitution gives the people the right to petition their government through the referendum process, so — people absolutely have that right and it should be protected. There have been some tremendous victories and accomplishments through the referendum process.”

Janet Mills: “I don’t believe anyone is served by making it harder for voters to express their beliefs — or by attempts to ignore their clearly expressed will. But part of the reason the referendum process has been used so frequently over the last eight years is that Gov. LePage has ruled by veto, as opposed to providing real leadership. Under a Mills administration, that’ll change.”

Mark Dion: “The referendum process has stood the test of time, and does not need revision. We may have had controversies concerning initiated questions recently, but that doesn’t justify limiting the right of the people to petition their government to enact legislation in accordance to the Maine Constitution.”

Betsy Sweet: “Yes, the current requirements are appropriate. What is inappropriate is that the Legislature and governor refuse to listen to the will of the people after citizen initiatives pass.”

Diane Russell: “The problem isn’t with the right to petition our government, as enshrined in the Maine Constitution. The problem is with politicians who have declared open war on the voters in stealing our laws from us. As governor, I will defend the petition process and the laws passed by the people — even if I disagree with those laws.”

Mark Eves: “Maine has one of the highest barriers to getting a referendum on the ballot. And, as we’ve seen repeatedly over the last three years, it doesn’t even ensure a change in policy. Our state’s problem is not the process for getting a citizen initiative on the ballot; our problem is politicians who cave to moneyed interests and refuse to implement the initiatives that the people choose.”


Democrats have spent seven years criticizing Gov. Paul LePage. List one positive thing he has done and explain why.

Mark Eves: “Gov. LePage has led on combating domestic abuse and sexual assault. Even when I don’t agree with his policy proposals, I appreciate that he has used the governor’s office to raise the profile of this critical issue.”

Donna Dion: “The governor and the first lady have extended themselves in establishing a program by which they worked at making connections with Maine’s veterans. They established LD 1850, An Act To Assist Maine’s Current and Former Members of the United States Armed Forces, by making sure the expertise of Maine veterans is recognized and valued when they apply for a license. The intent was that all past military training and experience would be considered in the requirements needed for a specialty license issued from the Maine Department of Professional and Financial Regulation. They have also put out the welcome mat once a month to sit with three military families, to understand the challenges they face in Maine.”

Adam Cote: “In 2012, Gov. LePage put in and later signed a bill — LD 1850 — making it easier for many of the men and women I was proud to lead and serve with over 20 years in the Maine National Guard to have their work and experience recognized more quickly when it comes to applying for state licenses. In addition, both the governor and his wife have also given generously of their public and private time to veterans, military families, and many causes that support veterans.”

Janet Mills: “While I’ve opposed many of Gov. LePage’s policies relating to the opioid crisis, I credit him for introducing legislation to reform opiate prescribing practices. Gov. LePage’s support for mandating participation in the Prescription Monitoring Program, requiring electronic prescriptions, and capping the amount and duration of prescriptions for most patients, was critical to addressing the three-quarters of people whose heroin use began with an addiction to prescription opioids.”

Mark Dion: “The governor’s personal commitment to reducing domestic violence in our state should not go unnoticed. I have no disagreement with his outspoken passion to hold abusers accountable and protect the survivors of such trauma.”

Betsy Sweet: “Democrats have spent seven years criticizing the governor for good reason. His policies have been destructive to our state and harmful to middle class and low-income families. That said, the one positive I will say is that he has spoken strongly against domestic violence. I do not believe his policies have always matched his words, but I am glad he has advocated for victims and attempted to fund some very important programs.”

Diane Russell: “LePage has reminded us that the Rule of Law is critical to a functioning democracy, awakening in us a realization that it may not be the sacred ground we once believed it to be. Democracy is precarious and requires each of us to engage to protect it and even fight for it if necessary.”

The BDN will stream Tuesday’s debate from 8 to 9 p.m. The primary election is June 12.

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Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.