This photo combination shows Republican candidate Paul LePage, left, and Democratic incumbent Janet Mills for the upcoming Maine gubernatorial election on Tuesday, June 14, 2022. Independent candidate Sam Hunkler is also running for election. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

The hand-to-hand part of the heavyweight campaign between former Gov. Paul LePage and Gov. Janet Mills is bearing down on us with less than three months until Election Day.

Differences between the two are easy to come by. LePage and Mills have been publicly fighting on issues over the better part of a decade, since they intersected while he was the Republican governor and she was the Democratic attorney general in charge of one major government silo.

She won the 2018 primary to succeed LePage in large part due to that history, then won the Blaine House behind promises to undo much of his legacy and quickly did so on several fronts, including by expanding Medicaid and releasing bonds her predecessor held up.

LePage’s tax code has held up over Mills’ tenure, and the new governor has been able to sharply increase spending because of a strong pre-pandemic economy and federal aid after that.

Democrats have been quite united during Mills’ tenure, but that belies the governor’s role in restraining her party from the political center on some issues. That made it striking to hear a recent round of LePage comments on drug policy.

In a recording from a recent event published by the Maine Democratic Party, the former governor falsely said possession of up to 1,000 grams of the deadly drug fentanyl has been made a misdemeanor. Possession of at least 200 milligrams is generally a felony here, and the administration of Mills actually opposed a major drug decriminalization bill in 2021.

Mills has worked with recovery advocates to pass other overhauls, including a Good Samaritan law. She allowed a law to pass without her signature that made it easier for those caught with more than 2 grams of heroin or fentanyl to present evidence they were not trafficking to avoid harsher penalties. While legislative Republicans generally opposed both changes, Mills has frustrated progressives who want to make major moves on this topic. 

LePage has an incentive to paint his rival as light on crime as it becomes a major national topic for conservatives. He has tried to pivot to that off his recent endorsement from the Maine Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police.

But while Mills is a reliable Democrat who has been willing to engage with advocates on these topics, she is also a career prosecutor. It makes it so her differences with LePage are not as stark on this issue as they are on others, so this message is a harder one to land for the ex-governor.

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...