Democratic Gov. Janet Mills used her inaugural address Wednesday at the Augusta Civic Center to outline an ambitious policy agenda that she says will make Maine a leader in tackling climate change, ensure that residents have access to health care and make the aging state more attractive to young professionals.
But more than all that, her speech was about change.
Mills vowed to unite the state, a subtle but unspoken criticism of the man she succeeds in the governor’s office, Republican Paul LePage. Mills has often said that her campaign and victory was about “turning the page,” a new path Democratic lawmakers are eager and poised to take now that they have full control of the Maine Legislature.
But despite a favorable power dynamic, Mills says she wants to work collaboratively and move the state away from the bellicose LePage years.
She quoted former Maine Republican Gov. Israel Washburn during her 25-minute speech.
“Waving aside petty schemes and unseemly wrangles … let us rise, if we can, to the height of the great argument which duty and patriotism so eloquently address to us,” she said.
Mills used her own family as an example of civil disagreement, saying family gatherings are “like a meeting of the United Nations,” where “everyone has an opinion and wants a microphone.”
“But these differences are what make my family strong. They make every family strong. They make Maine strong,” she said. “Our diversity is a virtue — one that we should harness to advance good public debate and good public policy.”
Mills is the first woman to serve as governor, an achievement that nearly coincides with the state’s looming bicentennial, which was repeatedly underscored during the two-hour inaugural ceremony. While Mills nodded to her place in history, her speech did not dwell on its significance.
“This year’s milestone will one day be commonplace, like drinking milk or eating toast,” she said. “When future generations read of this day, they will wonder what the fuss was about.”
Mills spent most of her speech hitting major policy topics, providing a rough sketch of her priorities, starting with climate change. She noted the studies detailing the warming of the Gulf of Maine, ocean acidification, rising sea levels and forests “less suitable for spruce and fir and more suitable for ticks.”
She said climate change is “threatening our jobs, damaging our health and attacking our historic relationship to the land and sea.”
“Enough with studies, talk, and debate,” she said. “It is time to act.”
Mills said she wants 50 percent of Maine electricity to come from renewable resources, a contrast to the approach taken by LePage, who resisted and worked to scuttle an array of renewable energy proposals, including expansion of wind and solar power.
Mills also told the crowd that she plans to install solar panels on the Blaine House, the governor’s mansion that she will call home for at least the next four years.
She also vowed to provide health care to low-income Mainers through the expansion of Medicaid. If successful, she will fulfill a campaign promise and end a drawn-out legal tussle initiated by LePage after he declined to implement the expansion voters approved by ballot initiative in 2017.
“Health care is for everyone, not just the well to do,” she said.
Mills also said her administration will dive into the opioid epidemic, which claimed 418 lives in 2017. She said the solution lies in increasing access to treatment and reducing a stigma that has made the crisis less of a priority than it should be.
“We will offer a helping hand, not pass judgment,” she said.
Mills also said her administration will work to solve the workforce shortage by expanding secondary education opportunities — and a change in attitude.
“From now on, a sign will greet all those arriving in our state at the Kittery line,” she said. “It will say, quite simply, ‘Welcome Home.’“
When LePage took office in 2011, he installed a sign at the same location that reads, “Open for Business.”
Mills takes office with Democrats in full control of the Legislature, a power dynamic afforded to LePage during his first two years in office. It was during those initial years that LePage achieved the most during his full eight-year tenure.
Democratic House Speaker Sara Gideon, in a written statement, highlighted the opportunity facing Democrats.
“Tonight marks a historic moment in Maine’s history,” she said. “As Janet Mills takes the oath of office and officially becomes our 75th governor and our first female governor, we start a new chapter for all Mainers. After spending her entire career fighting for Maine families and defending working people, our new governor will be exactly the champion that Maine deserves. With Governor Mills in the Blaine House, we look forward to a tremendous opportunity to chart a path for Maine that grows our economy, capitalizes on our greatest resources and moves every family closer to prosperity.”
The Maine Republican Party congratulated Mills, but said she inherits the work of her predecessor.
“In summary, Maine is in a much better place now than it was eight years ago when Paul LePage took office and began this epic American turnaround,” said GOP chairwoman Demi Kouzounas in a statement. “It is now on Janet Mills to navigate a path forward that will maintain Maine’s record economic strength.”