Republican Paul LePage, joined by his wife, Ann, left, speaks to supporters Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022, in Lewiston, Maine. LePage is running against Democratic Gov. Janet Mills. Credit: Joel Page / AP

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Susan Young is the Bangor Daily News opinion editor.

Republican candidates across the country made the economy a centerpiece of their campaigns. This was especially the case with Paul LePage and Bruce Poliquin in Maine. LePage, who served two terms as governor, sought to unseat Democratic Gov. Janet Mills. He was resoundingly defeated by Mills, according to unofficial election results.

LePage, in his typical angry style, mistook the lessons from Tuesday’s election.

“We missed the message,” LePage said in brief remarks to his supporters in Lewiston Tuesday night. “It’s about abortion, not about heating oil.” He prefaced these remarks with personal criticisms of and accusations against Mills and some of his supporters shouted crude epithets about the governor.

This election, like any election, was about many things, including the economy and abortion. Voters can be concerned about — and motivated to go to the ballot box — by many issues at the same time.

With record high inflation and rising costs for fuel, food and other essentials, the economy, of course, was on voters’ minds.

But that concern does not automatically translate in support for LePage or other Republicans, as Tuesday’s election results show.

Many voters likely understand that inflation, which is a global problem, isn’t caused by a governor (or even solely a president). Nor can it be solved by them alone.

Many voters likely also saw that LePage had few real solutions to improve Maine’s economy. Pledging to eliminate the state’s income tax — a centerpiece of his campaign — is unrealistic. It costs too much and would likely lead to a dramatic decrease in state services, which shifts a costly burden onto municipalities. This is why he failed to make headway on phasing out the state income tax when he was governor and Republicans controlled the Legislature.

Likewise, his proposal to have recent immigrants to Maine work on farms (in some cases in contravention of federal law, which LePage admitted) to lower the cost of food is a half-baked idea.

And, frankly, many voters think that Mills has done an admirable job managing Maine, and its economy. Economic growth, as measured by the state’s gross domestic product, has been stronger during Mills’ tenure as governor than during LePage’s.

Did many voters also care about abortion access, especially after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June and states starting passing extreme abortion restrictions? Of course they did.

This concern, LePage should have understood, isn’t just about access to abortion, it is about power and who gets to make decisions for women and families. Voters are smart enough to know that elected officials who are comfortable taking away reproductive rights may also be comfortable taking away other rights.

And, despite a convoluted statement from LePage about vetoing a hypothetical abortion ban in Maine, many voters didn’t believe he was the best candidate to preserve access to reproductive health services. Perhaps because he’d spent years calling himself “pro-life” and downplayed concerns about reproductive health.

One more point: Reproductive rights are about the economy. When women don’t have the freedom to choose when and whether to have children and when to terminate pregnancies that are potentially fatal to them and their fetuses, they tend to suffer in many ways, including economically. This is especially true of women of color. Bodily autonomy, it turns out, is correlated with economic prosperity.

Like people across the country, voters in Maine are are concerned about a lot things: heating oil prices, abortion, climate change, education, crime, affordable housing, overdose deaths, to name just a few.

As they considered their top concerns and who could best address them as governor, more voters favored Janet Mills than Paul LePage. That is the message. No anger or insults needed.

And, one more message from Tuesday’s election: Maine voters also decided they didn’t want to go back to a governor who insults people, including voters, who do not agree with him.

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Susan Young

Susan Young is the opinion editor at the Bangor Daily News. She has worked for the BDN for over 25 years as a reporter and editor.