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Mary Mayhew’s Resignation Fuels Speculation About Governor’s Race

Mal Leary
Maine Public/file

State Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew resigned from office Wednesday, effective Friday. Mayhew has served in that position since the first weeks of the LePage administration. The announcement is spurring speculation about her political future.

The announcement of Mayhew’s departure first came in a statement from the governor praising her tenure as commissioner. LePage says she has been a leader in reforming welfare programs and bringing spending under control at DHHS. He did not address the timing of the move, which comes as his latest welfare reform bill was just introduced to the Legislature.

Mayhew held a brief press availability at DHHS, but refused to take questions.

“We have both stabilized our financial foundation but in so doing we have been able to prioritize,” she says.

Mayhew has received generally good reviews from most Republican lawmakers, but Democrats criticize her push for cuts in programs they believe are necessary to protect the safety net for Maine’s most vulnerable.

“She is very passionate. She advocates very strong for her positions. I have been very, very disappointed in a lot of the direction that the department has taken. We have seen over 100,000 people lose health care through of Medicaid program,” says Westbrook Rep. Drew Gattine, who co-chairs the Appropriations Committee.

And Gattine points to what he says have been a number of management issues, including the loss of federal certification of the Riverview Psychiatric Center, for which he and others believe Mayhew is to blame.

Gattine says some of the positions she has taken may hurt her if she does run for governor, but Mayhew would not address her future.

“In terms of what is next for me, I am still commissioner of this department and I am going to work for the next several days focused on the priorities of this department,” she says.

Mayhew has repeatedly declined to answer questions about a possible run. She has been attending a lot of Republican Party functions across the state, and is included on most observers’ lists of likely candidates.

Mark Brewer, a political scientist at the University of Maine, says her role in leading LePage’s efforts to cut welfare will play well with his core supporters in the Republican Party and could help her in a primary. And resigning as commissioner, she can start to organize and raise money for a tough campaign.

But Brewer says Mayhew and any other Republican considering a run is watching to see whether U.S. Sen. Susan Collins or U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin jump into the ring.

“She can start to cultivate those relationships and make those asks, but I don’t think she can nail anything down until there is more certainty to this race,” he says.

Brewer says if Collins decides to run, she would be favored to win the Republican nomination. He says if Collins stays in the Senate, Poliquin would likely win the nomination, but could face more serious opposition. He says either way, Mayhew would face a tough decision.

Journalist Mal Leary spearheads Maine Public's news coverage of politics and government and is based at the State House.