York County chamber cancels next week’s gubernatorial debate after LePage turns down invite

Posted Aug. 20, 2014, at 1:37 p.m.

KITTERY, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage has turned down a gubernatorial debate in Kittery on Aug. 27, prompting the Greater York Region Chamber of Commerce to pull out of the event.

“We can only do so much,” said Chamber board president Jeff Pelkey. “It’s unfortunate for southern Maine. This is too important a race for the candidates to discount us.”

The Chamber was going to hold the debate at the Kittery Community Center, and had invited Republican LePage, Democratic Rep. Mike Michaud and independent Eliot Cutler.

By its Aug. 6 deadline, Cutler had accepted, Michaud’s campaign said he would debate if LePage accepted and LePage had not responded. His campaign did not respond until late last week, when he declined the invitation.

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“For the sake of our sponsors, and because the Chamber has a responsibility to our businesses, we are going to pull out of the debate,” said Chamber president Holly Roberts.

Sponsors the Cliff House, Cape Neddick Inn, Wiggley Bridge Distillery and Advocate Consulting want a full debate with all three candidates. “That’s what they were expecting,” said Roberts, “and that’s what they had a right to expect.”

She said the debate was going to be expensive to mount, and the sponsors were going to defray costs. “We can’t ask our sponsors to make that investment and then not give them what they paid for. We can’t hold a Q and A for Eliot Cutler.”

She said she was disappointed that the governor declined to come, and that Michaud based his appearance on the governor’s acceptance. The chamber was trying to get the candidates to “step up to the plate and have a debate in southern York County.”

“Unfortunately, it appears this part of the state doesn’t affect their campaigns,” she said. “This is why the Chamber tries to stay out of politics.”

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