By Scott Thistle
Maine Attorney General Janet Mills announced Monday that she would seek the Democratic Party's nomination for governor in 2018.
Mills is the highest profile Democrat to enter the race and is known for her frequent clashes with Maine's Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican who is finishing his second and final term.
A former legislator and long-time party leader, Mills has pushed for more access to opioid addiction treatment, including anti-overdose medication that has been opposed by LePage. And she joined attorneys general from other states who condemned President Trump's travel ban for immigrants from a group of Muslim-majority countries.
"In Maine, when something's not working, we don't wait around for someone to come along and take care of it for us; we roll up our sleeves and fix it ourselves," Mills said in a prepared statement Monday. "Well, it's pretty clear that our government is broken, and there's no way I'm going to stand on the sidelines and not fight to put it back together."
In an interview with the Portland Press Herald, Mills said that while she isn't running against LePage, her style of leadership would be the antidote to LePage's style.
"I'm not campaigning against anybody else in particular. I'm campaigning for the job on the basis of my own record and experience and on the basis of what people tell me across the state of what they want to see," Mills said. "They want to see a government that responds more proactively, that responds more effectively to the needs of children who can't learn in school because they have missed too many meals, of seniors who want to stay in their homes but can't afford the heat, of veterans coming back from battlefields and they can't find comfort here. They want positive energy. They don't want a governor who disparages the state. They don't want somebody who calls it mosquitoland -- I want to be the biggest cheerleader for the state."
LePage referred to the area near Baxter State Park as the "mosquito area" during testimony before a congressional subcommittee considering Katahdin Woods and Waters' designation as a national monument.
Mills is the ninth candidate to announce. She joins fellow Democrats Adam Cote, Betsy Sweet and Patrick Eisenhart. Also running are former Maine Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew, a Republican, and State Treasurer Terry Hayes, an independent, as well as Republican Deril Steubenrod, Libertarian Richard Light and Green Party candidate Jay Parker Lunt Dresser.
The gubernatorial race is drawing considerable attention and Sen. Susan Collins is among the prominent Mainers who have said they are weighing a run for the Blaine House.
Mills is a native of Farmington, where she still lives. She is a graduate of Farmington High School and holds a bachelors degree from the University of Massachusetts Boston and a law degree from the University of Maine School of Law.
Mills, 69, has been a frequent target of LePage's criticism and earlier this year he sued her in Kennebec County Superior Court claiming she was abusing her power as attorney general by refusing to represent the governor in federal lawsuits. Mills had refused to join several lawsuits aimed at former President Barack Obama's administration.
Mills, who is serving her third consecutive two-year term as Attorney General, had long been rumored to be considering a bid for the governor's office and in February said she was regularly being asked to run by supporters.
Mills also has practiced law as a private attorney. She was elected to serve as the district attorney for Androscoggin, Franklin and Oxford counties in 1980 -- in that election she became the first female district attorney in New England. Before her most recent election to the Attorney General's Office by the Legislature, she served in the same role from 2009 to 2011, when she became the state's first female attorney general. Mills also has served in the Maine House of Representatives, serving four consecutive terms from 2002 until 2008. If elected governor, she would be the state's first female governor, but said she's not interested in making that central to her campaign for office.
She said Monday that the recent state budget impasse and partial government shutdown that resulted from the deadlock helped her reach the conclusion she would run.
"That made me understand, more than ever before that Maine people want leadership that brings people together," Mills said, "that doesn't divide them, doesn't polarize them. There has been a failure of leadership at the top and they want to see that changed."
Reaction to Mills' announcement from the Maine Republican Party was short but pointed.
In a prepared statement Maine Republican Party Chairwoman Demi Kouzounas called Mills, "Another career politician running for higher office with no experience or understanding of the issues Maine people or small businesses face."
Mills and LePage have clashed repeatedly, including on how they believe the state should be responding to the ongoing opioid overdose crisis that claims the live of about one Mainer per day. When LePage recently vetoed legislation that would have provided law enforcement across the state with more access to the overdose antidote Narcan, Mills paid for distribution of the antidote with money from a consumer trust fund, a pot of money built up from court settlements that is controlled by the attorney general and is used to fund the consumer protection division and other initiatives at the attorney general's discretion.
"When the governor said that Narcan doesn't save lives it just postpones death, when he vetoed the two bills last year, I decided I would take pharmaceutical settlements and use that to buy Narcan and distribute it as far and wide as I could," Mills said. So far, she said, the effort has saved the lives of 208 Mainers. "I think every life you save is a significant act on the part of any public official, on the part of any person and I'm proud of that," she said.
Mills also has joined other Democratic attorneys general in condemning President Trump's executive order banning travel to the U.S. for immigrants from a group of Muslim-majority nations. In January Mills said Trump's action wouldn't make America any safer. "When you paint an entire group of people with the same brush, you engender hostility, not compassion," she said.
Mills says she has the time to devote to a campaign and to serve as governor. Her late husband Stan Kuklinski, a former building contractor and well-known high school tennis coach at Mt. Blue High School in Farmington, died two and half years ago. Mills has five stepdaughters and four grandchildren, three grandsons and a granddaughter.
"I work at problem-solving, I've done that all my life," she said. "Whether that's working to protect victims of domestic violence or to protecting families and working people in both the private sector and the public sector, protecting our natural resources. And I know I can do even better as governor to protect those resources and to protect our people."
Mills hails from one of Maine's politically prominent families. Brother Peter Mills is a Republican who ran for governor in 2010, losing in that year's primary to LePage. Peter Mills currently serves as the executive director of the Maine Turnpike Authority, being appointed to the position by LePage. Sister Dora Anne Mills is a medical doctor and former director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Brother Paul Mills is a Farmington-based attorney, author and columnist.
(c)2017 the Portland Press Herald (Portland, Maine)