Democratic Gov. Janet Mills on Tuesday formalized her bid for a second term in a video address highlighting her pandemic response, management of state finances and keeping her pledge not to raise taxes.
Republicans, meanwhile, are attempting to tie her to President Joe Biden and the high costs of energy, gas and goods across the globe.
The video focuses on letters the governor received from constituents thanking her for putting public health at the forefront of her approach to managing the pandemic.
“Through difficult and dangerous times, you have shown that Maine is stronger than we ever could have imagined,” Mills says in the video.
That approach was rewarded with public support, according to polls taken early in the pandemic, but it has since become a topic of fierce Republican criticism.
Mills’ expected GOP challenger, former Gov. Paul LePage, left for Florida immediately after the completion of his second term in 2018, but he suggested even before his departure that he would return and run for a third nonconsecutive term.
Before reclaiming residency in Maine and making that bid official last year, LePage came to Maine in 2020 alongside former President Donald Trump and the two blasted Mills for implementing measures to control spread of COVID-19.
“You have a governor who doesn’t know what she’s doing,” Trump said during an appearance at a swab manufacturing facility in Guilford in June 2020. “She’s like a dictator.”
“Yes, she is,” LePage said.
Mills’ pandemic restrictions were largely aligned with neighboring states run by Republican governors and were completely lifted nearly a year ago, but her response continues to be framed by the GOP as hurting businesses.
More recently, Republicans have tried to blame Mills for an economic recovery in the U.S. and Maine in which high inflation and gas and energy prices are overshadowing a return to pre-pandemic GDP growth and unemployment.
Mills’ campaign launch attempted to answer those critiques by highlighting her proposal to provide $750 checks to roughly 800,000 Mainers, an initiative that the governor says is designed to provide quick and direct inflation relief.
And while her campaign also touted Mills’ initiatives to increase public education funding and expand health care and high-speed internet service, the video message also focused on unfinished business.
“Our goal since the beginning of this unprecedented challenge has been to save lives and livelihoods,” she says. “And thanks to you, we’ve succeeded better than virtually every state in the nation. We’ve accomplished so much, but I’m running for reelection because there’s so much left to do. It’s time to invest in you, the people of Maine.”
LePage’s campaign responded in a written statement criticizing Mills for ignoring his calls for a permanent cut in the income tax.
LePage successfully lowered the top income tax rate by 1.35% during his first term, but his efforts to dramatically lower it further were stymied by members of his own party who objected to his proposal to raise and broaden other taxes to offset lost revenues that account for about 40% of the state’s annual budget.
Nevertheless, LePage has made cutting and eliminating the income tax a central argument for a third term, while Mills is promising to tackle the workforce shortage, provide free community college for pandemic-affected high school students and expand economic opportunities for new and existing residents.
The contest between the two rivals is expected to be close — and expensive. The Maine GOP announced Tuesday that it’s already booked nearly $4 million in TV ads on the race.