Gubernatorial candidates Democratic Gov. Janet Mills and Republican Paul LePage participate in a debate, Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022, at the Franco Center in Lewiston, Maine. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

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The word “lie” gets thrown around an awful lot in politics. That certainly was the case during and after Tuesday night’s first gubernatorial debate between Democratic Gov. Janet Mills, Republican former Gov. Paul LePage and independent Sam Hunkler.

As Tuesday night proved, sometimes the people talking the loudest about supposed lies don’t have their facts straight themselves. Take LePage’s pronouncement in response to Mills mentioning his support of former President Donald Trump’s move to ban foreign travel from seven majority-Muslim countries.

Mills said that Lepage “joined the Trump administration’s effort to, for instance, ban people of the Muslim faith from coming to states like Maine, or to anywhere in this country. I did not agree with that policy. He joined the Trump administration in that regard.”

“Janet Mills. You are a liar,” LePage responded confidently. “I have not joined and prevented Muslims from going to work ever. I did not join the Trump administration in any immigration.”

But here’s the thing: He supported that policy from the Trump administration. He was clear about that at the time. So Mills wasn’t lying, even if her use of the word “join” could be seen as imprecise and her description could imply that the Trump administration banned all Muslims rather than people from seven specfic majority-Muslim countries.

LePage vocally supported Trump’s order at the time. That happened. There’s past reporting about it readily available. There’s a tweet from LePage himself at the time.

“AG Mills speaks for herself on immigration order. I fully support  @realDonaldTrump exec action to protect all Americans,” LePage tweeted in February of 2017 after then-Attorney General Mills joined with other states to oppose Trump’s order in court.

Maybe LePage disagreed with how Mills described these past events. That is open for debate. What is not open for debate, however, is that he was wrong when he stridently proclaimed Mills to be a liar about something that did in fact occur.

Another area of disagreement between Mills and LePage Tuesday night centered around state budgets. LePage criticized Mills for the passage of a “majority budget” on a strict party line basis. Mills countered to emphasize that lawmakers reached a bipartisan budget agreement this spring. Nobody was lying, it appears that they were just talking past each other.

The budget process is complicated in a way that doesn’t condense well to one-minute debate answers. But LePage is correct that legislative Democrats passed a two-year budget without Republican support and Mills signed it. That happened in March of 2021. We remember, because we criticized that move and worried that it would poison bipartisan relationships in Augusta.

Thankfully, our fears turned out to be overblown, as Democrats and Republicans later worked together to craft a supplemental budget, which adjusts state spending based on changes in revenue and other considerations. That latest budget adjustment was  passed in April 2022 with more than two-thirds support in the Legislature, including support from both Democrats and Republicans.

So yes, the most recent budget was passed in strong bipartisan fashion as emphasized by Mills. But LePage is also right that the underlying biennial budget, passed in 2021, was approved without Republican support; that is a fact.

It is also a fact that in a radio interview shortly after the 2020 presidential election, LePage said that “this is clearly a stolen election.” So while it was encouraging to hear him say Tuesday night that he believes President Joe Biden won, it also was quite the stretch for him to say “I’ve never rejected any election, including the 2020 presidential election.”

This is just a small cross section from Tuesday’s debate, but it should serve as a reminder for voters: Beware sweeping claims that someone else is lying. The truth is usually more complicated.


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The BDN Editorial Board

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Editorial Page Editor Susan Young, Assistant Editorial Page Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked...