In Maine, change has arrived in the form of the first woman to occupy the governor’s office in the state’s 199-year history. Janet Mills, a Democrat from the small town of Farmington, this week delivered a message of inclusion and hope.
The state’s 75th governor pledged to invite diverse voices to policy debates. While she has not been fully embraced by all Mainers, including some marginalized groups like the LGBTQ community that want more progressive thinking at the top level, Mills’ message was a bold statement for Maine — and New England.
Rural economies like Maine and Vermont (and parts of northern New Hampshire) need to realize that policy challenges need to happen, often leaving behind tradition.
Mills took the oath of office before a fired-up crowd of several thousand at the Augusta Civic Center on Wednesday.
“We are all in this together,” Mills told the crowd. “We all want Maine to have a beautiful environment, happy people and prosperous communities.”
Mills defeated six Democratic primary contenders in June and then two opponents in the general election. Her victory was part of a Democratic wave that saw the party regain control of the Maine Senate, strengthen its majority in the Maine House and flip the 2nd Congressional District seat.
Maine’s midterm election signaled a significant change from the two terms of Trump Republican Paul LePage.
“Sometimes our culture moves slowly in the stream of change,” Mills told the crowd.
“Today we rise, a new day before us, and seek adventure.”
She went on to talk about climate change’s effects on fisheries and forests.
“Climate change is threatening our jobs, damaging our health and attacking our historic relationship to the land and sea,” she said. “Enough with studies, talk and debate. It is time to act!”
She said her administration would embrace clean energy, change modes of transportation, weatherize homes and businesses, and reach a goal of 50 percent of the state’s electricity coming from renewable resources.
“These actions will create good-paying jobs, preserve our environment and welcome young people to build a green future here in Maine,” she noted. LePage would never acknowledge the effects of climate change.
She urged making health care a human right and protecting the medical health of all Mainers.
“Health care is for everyone, not just the well to do. It is for the small businesses struggling to pay high health insurance bills. It is for the family on the brink of bankruptcy because of one illness, accident or medical mishap. It is for the community that takes up collections in a jar at the corner store to pay for a neighbor’s medical costs,” she said.
And she warned against the long-term effects of opioid addiction on the state.
“History will note that we have abandoned an entire generation of people to this preventable disease.
“The allure of opiates can fill a hole in the human heart caused by loneliness, stress and hopelessness.
“Even as I speak, there is someone within the sound of my voice about to consume a deadly drug, jeopardizing themselves, their friends, their families and their communities,” she said.
Like Vermont, Mills said she is eager to attract “talented young people” to both attend schools and move to Maine — making it a top priority of her administration.
But Mills warned about unknowns, too.
“We know that a recession is possible in the next few years,” she said. “We know that someday, robots, drones, driverless cars, broadband and 3-D printing will radically alter the way Maine people live, learn and work. We need to be ready.”
In response, Mills is creating an Office of Innovation and the Future that will “dive into major policy challenges, foster collaboration and propose concrete, workable solutions.”
Mills seems poised to work with all of the parties in her state, including a number of progressives and libertarians.
“Our diversity is a virtue — one that we should harness to advance good public debate and good public policy,” she said.
“Now our state must find its own common ground, expand our horizons and become one Maine again,” she concluded.
In an age of extreme polarization and fractured politics, it is heartening to hear such willingness. We are cautiously optimistic that our neighbor to the east will overcome many of the same challenges we face here in Vermont. Good luck, Gov. Mills.