- Associated Press - Friday, September 12, 2014

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) - Gov. Paul LePage declined Friday to address a forum that was supposed to mark the first time all three candidates for governor spoke at the same event, declining to share the stage with two political opponents hoping to unseat him in November.

The Republican who’s seeking re-election pulled out of the event hosted by the Environmental & Energy Technology Council of Maine. He declined to get out of his state-owned vehicle, and his campaign issued a statement accusing organizers of changing the format.

For a time, independent candidate Eliot Cutler was the only one sitting at a table that had three microphones and placards for him, LePage and Democratic Rep. Mike Mchaud.

“I want to apologize to you for the shenanigans this morning. That’s not what Democracy should be all about,” he later told the audience. “It’s a disservice and frankly an insult to you as voters.”

The E2 Tech event at the University of Southern Maine was supposed to focus on the candidates’ views on energy issues, but it was nearly overshadowed by the political kerfuffle that left the audience of several hundred business executives, nonprofit leaders and educators scratching their heads.

Jeff Marks, the organization’s executive director, said the terms were clearly spelled out to the candidates and their staff. Each candidate had 30 minutes to discuss his energy vision while all three shared the stage; they weren’t to address each other, he said.

Alex Willette, LePage’s spokesman, said the governor’s understanding was that he would be alone with the audience and that the new format was arranged “to put politics ahead of public policy.”

Michaud arrived just in time to make his address, and didn’t stick around to hear what Cutler had to say.

Cutler, who’s trailing in the polls, has been challenging both Michaud and LePage to debates. He has accused them of delaying debate appearances until after many absentee ballots are cast ahead of the November election.

Addressing the forum, Cutler said Maine has a “largely untapped resources basket” when it comes to clean energy production. He said natural gas should be used as a bridge until the state can better tap those renewable energy resources.

Michaud, who wants to cut the state’s reliance on heating oil in half by 2030, said the state needs to “double down” on expanding renewable energy and on conservation. He singled out solar power as a renewable energy that’s been largely overlooked so far in Maine.

LePage has said previously that he doesn’t oppose renewable energy but believes wind power and solar are too expensive right now. Instead, he’s advocated for expanding natural gas infrastructure and access to hydropower from Quebec.

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