Maine's four gubernatorial candidates stand on stage at a Portland Chamber Of Commerce breakfast forum Wednesday morning at the Holiday Inn by the Bay. From left are, independents Alan Caron, a consultant, State Treasurer Terry Hayes, Democrat Janet Mills and Republican Shawn Moody.

Good morning from Augusta, where the focus remains on the contest to determine who will move into the governor’s mansion next January.

The four candidates for governor continue their debate tour around Maine. After a flurry of forums last week, the quartet met again Wednesday night at the University of New England for a largely cordial 90-minute debate hosted by the university and Portland Press Herald. Each offered nuggets of policy or initiatives they would seek to implement if elected but focused more on displaying the personality and leadership traits they would bring to the Blaine House.

Republican businessman Shawn Moody often employed folksy colloquialisms in responding to questions and follow-ups. One of his newer policy ideas came when he said he would advocate to expand the three-person Maine Public Utilities Commission to five members — with one specifically chosen from the renewable energy sector.

Moody’s responses, which were sometimes vague and meandering, contrasted with those from Democrat Janet Mills, who portrayed herself as an experienced leader who would provide an antidote to eight years of Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s disruptive management style. Mills said she wants to help Mainers age in place, first by issuing voter-approved senior housing bonds “that have been sitting on the governor’s desk for three years without any excuse or reason” and by helping communities secure aging-in-place grants.

Her bond remark, in response to a question about how Maine should serve its aging population, dovetailed with an earlier call to immediately enact expanded Medicaid eligibility — another LePage bugaboo — to highlight the Democrat’s efforts to rally LePage detractors against Moody.

Mills, like independents Alan Caron and Terry Hayes, also embraces weaning the state off fossil fuels and hit Moody with one of her harder debate jabs so far.

“I believe in renewable energy and, by the way, I believe in climate change,” Mills said. “I don’t believe the Blaine House should become home to a climate change denier,” she said, referring to Moody.

Moody, who rejected the scientific consensus that human activities are largely responsible for climate change at a Republican primary debate in June, laughed and gave a hedging response. He was then asked again.

“For anyone to say in this day and age that anyone is in denial about climate change is such a ridiculous statement,” Moody said. “Does it even bear a response?”

Hayes and Caron gently jabbed at the exchange between Mills and Moody in their efforts to present themselves as alternatives to partisan squabbling that they say paralyzes state government. Hayes later took the unusual debate tactic of saying she did not have enough information to answer a question about legislation on abortion clinic oversight, emphasizing that she would make decisions based on her own research and input from an array of sources, not just party-line voices.

Caron used it as an opportunity to argue that Maine has no energy policy and to frame the climate change question as another example of political discord stymying progress.

“There has been no scientific debate about climate change,” he said. “It is a political debate.”

All four candidates emphasized the need to adequately fund Maine’s public schools. Caron suggested shifting the funding formula’s reliance from property values — a point that has long been criticized as foisting undue tax burdens on poorer communities — to add income to the school aid distribution formula. Mills echoed this point and said the state should also “more aggressively” fund Pre-K education.

Moody and Hayes endorsed establishing a statewide teachers contract, which has been another LePage goal that met resistance from Democrats in the Legislature.

As the candidates debate, more money is flowing into their race. More than $6.6 million in outside money has been spent in the governor’s race so far. The Maine Republican Party became the biggest-spending group in the race in Wednesday, when they reported buying $1.8 million in anti-Mills ads.

However, the state party has been the only pro-Moody outside spender so far and Republicans have had to contend with $3.9 million spent by six Democratic groups to boost Mills. Maine is now on pace to exceed the record amount of outside spending on the 2014 governor’s race.

U.S. Chamber endorses Grohman

An independent congressional challenger got an endorsement usually saved for Republicans, but it’s unclear if it will come with financial support. State Rep. Marty Grohman, I-Biddeford, was endorsed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday in his bid to unseat five-term U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat from Maine’s 1st District.

Geoff O’Hara, vice president of regional affairs and advocacy at the chamber, said Grohman, who founded a decking manufacturing company in Biddeford, had the group’s “full-throated” backing, citing Pingree’s 31 percent career-long record on issues important to the chamber.

The chamber typically supports Republican candidates, but Grohman’s candidacy is unique. The former Democrat is looking to out-poll Republican Mark Holbrookwho lost to Pingree in 2016 — in the first round of ranked-choice voting and drag Pingree below a majority. Then, he could win once first-round votes are reallocated, though it’s probably a longshot.

It’s unclear how much influence the endorsement will carry. The chamber has spent $11.9 million in outside money on federal elections during the 2018 cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. After being asked if it would spend to help Grohman, a chamber spokeswoman said in an email there was “no further news to share today.”

Reading list

A Hong Kong company bought a shuttered paper mill in Old Town. ND Paper LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Nine Dragons Paper (Holdings) Ltd., said Wednesday it has a purchase agreement t o buy the Old Town property from OTM Holdings LLC for an undisclosed sum. ND Paper also owns a mill in Rumford.

A deadly deer disease is getting closer to Maine. A chronic wasting disease that has devastated ungulates in western states was detected in a single deer at a farm north of Montreal. That has wildlife biologists in Maine pricking up their ears in cautionary efforts to stave off the disease. Chronic wasting disease is spread by a protein called a prion. It’s similar to mad cow disease in cattle, scrapies in sheep and Jakob-Creutzfeldt Disease in humans. “It’s 100 percent fatal for deer. We can’t cure it. We can’t vaccinate against it. If a deer gets it, it will die from it,” Nathan Bieber, deer biologist for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, said.

A judge found a Brunswick man not guilty of attempted murder stemming from a police shootout. Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy issued the verdict Wednesday. Prosecutors contended that 41-year-old Scott Bubar fired a shotgun at a sheriff’s deputy but Bubar blamed his father. A pistol and shotgun were found near the body of 65-year-old Roger Bubar, who died during the shootout with police May 12, 2017, in Belgrade. Scott Bubar was shot in the abdomen but recovered.

This meeting with the president, vice president, their chiefs of staff and the secretary of state is every reporter’s dream. New York Magazine’s Olivia Nuzzi let President Donald Trump do much of the talking in this wild account of getting called into the Oval Office, where Trump was looking to tamp down her notion that Chief of Staff John Kelly has nearly been or will sometime be fired. While Trump was talking to her, Kelly appeared in the room, followed by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Vice President Mike Pence. The story includes a two-page handout on Trump’s accomplishment, long quotes from the president and ends with Kelly and Nick Ayers, Pence’s chief of staff who has been rumored as a Kelly replacement with “their arms stretched around each other and their faces pressed close together” and Kelly saying, “This is my friend.”

Creature features

I never realized Maine had so many pesky varmints until I started reading the Bangor Daily News. Almost every day, I learn about some new critter that can make my life here miserable.

We get a steady dose of tick news, which is really important given all the horrible diseases they bring with them. And BDN writers have educated me about all kinds of other i nsects and bugs that can pester me.

This week, it’s rodents. First it was rats. I know people who have them as pets and say they are smart and loving. Not me. My enduring rat story is the one about wiry New England farmer Edwin Warren, who had a rat run up his leg inside his pants while he was toting a hay bale in a barn. With his hands full, he quickly threw himself against the barn wall, pulverizing the rascally rodent before it could bite him.

Today, we get to read about skunks. On a visit to Plimoth Plantation and the nearby Wampanoag settlement a few years ago, I observed tribal members cooking morsels of what looked like tasty white meat on skewers over an open fire. It was skunk, which they said tasted even better than chicken.

I’ll take their word for it. Here is your soundtrack. — Robert Long

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Michael Shepherd, Alex Acquisto and Robert Long. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to receive Maine’s leading newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings. Click here to subscribe to the BDN.

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Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after time at the Kennebec Journal. He lives in Augusta, graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and has a master's degree from the University...