Crown Politics

Gun talk continues to shape Maine Democrats’ race to replace LePage

Good morning from Augusta. A week before the primary election, the seven Democrats vying for their party’s nomination squared off in another televised debate that showed they are in lockstep with each other on many major issues, but apparent leaders in the race are clashing.

The talking points haven’t changed. The hour-long debate hosted by WMTWfocused on health care, addiction, education and the economy — just like most any gubernatorial debate — and for the most part had candidates answering questions within their own silos and without pushback from moderators or other candidates. However, Attorney General Janet Mills and attorney Adam Cotecontinued a clash over gun control that has been simmering for weeks.

It’s not the policy that the disagree on, it’s the past. Both of them and all the Democrats say they agree on basic gun control measures such as a ban on bump stocks, universal background checks and allowing courts to seize guns from certain offenders. Mills opened the conversation by sharing a story about incident in which she said a former boyfriend had once held a gun to her head while he was drunk.

The tension point between Cote and Mills is whether Mills has been strong enough on gun control measures in the past. As a legislator, she received favorable ratings from the National Rifle Association. “You got three endorsements from the NRA,” argued Cote.

Mills replied angrily that “my record has been distorted once again” and noted that she now has an “F” from the NRA and has “never taken a dime” from the organization’s lobbying wing. “You can spend another million dollars on attack ads to attack me but don’t ever say I don’t care about gun safety,” she said. (Cote raised less than $1 million by this weekend.)

Cutting through the spin, it was a different era on guns when Mills was in the Legislature. She and Cote were moderate on guns then. While Cote has highlighted her 2005 vote against a bill mandating background checks before sales of firearms at gun shows and a 2007 vote against a bill allow public universities to regulate guns on campus, she agreed with the majority of her Democratic colleagues then. Cote ran for Congress in 2008 as a moderate on guns and was attacked for it in the primary.

All of the other candidates said again they they would never take donations from the NRA. They agreed on the need for more gun control measures but former House Speaker Mark Eves took it a step further, saying as governor he wouldn’t even allow the NRA at the negotiating table when it comes to gun control laws because “the NRA gets in the middle and scares politicians.”

Former sheriff and state Sen. Mark Dion differed on that point, saying “you can’t get anything done unless everyone is at the table.” Former state Rep. Diane Russell went to the other extreme, arguing that the NRA represents “violent criminals” and “arms dealers.”

Lobbyist Betsy Sweet took a broader view on the NRA’s influence, repeating her campaign mantra that special interest money from the NRA and all of the other lobbying groups needs to be excised from politics altogether.

The Fiddlehead Focus/St. John Valley Times is pleased to feature content from our sister company, Bangor Daily News. To read the rest of “Gun talk continues to shape Maine Democrats’ race to replace LePage,” an article by contributing Bangor Daily News staff writer Christopher Cousins, please follow this link to the BDN online.

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