Gubernatorial Candidate Janet Mills On The Opioid Crisis And Maine’s Partisan Divide

Oct 10, 2018

During an appearance on Maine Calling, host Jennifer Rooks asked Democrat Janet Mills, one of four candidates vying to become the next governor of Maine, what she believes should be done about the partisan divide in our state.

This is an excerpt of “Maine Calling” from Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018. You can listen to Janet Mills’ full interview here.

Mills: Oh, a lot needs to be done about that. First of all, if I'm privileged to become the next Governor of Maine, you will not find me governing by veto. I will govern in a transparent manner. I will hopefully attract the best and the brightest in Maine state government. They will be able to share their ideas, their information, their data. We will look to the future. I will work across the aisles to work with members of all three parties in the legislature to get the best public policy done for Maine people. I have a record of doing that. I served on the Appropriations Committee for four years, where we did seven budgets. We had to do that by working across the aisle. And those were some of the toughest years in Maine's economy. You know, the recession of 2008, it wasn't easy to do any budget, but we worked very hard day and night, across the aisle, to get things done...If you want to know about bipartisanship come to my Thanksgiving Day dinner (laughs). I grew up in a Republican family, of course, you know not Tea Party Republicans, necessarily, but Teddy Roosevelt-type Republicans, people who believed in conservation, believed in individual justice and human rights. And I grew up under the shadow, in the shadows of Margaret Chase Smith, Senator Margaret Smith, who lived up the road from us in Skowhegan. She was a family friend, so I know something about bipartisanship.

Rooks: I want to ask you if you support the plan to expand Medicaid (Mills laughs), because I think anybody who has followed Maine news in the last couple years knows that you support the expansion of Medicaid. As governor, though, I'll ask you this: how would you implement that expansion, and how would the state pay for it?

Mills: Well good questions, and I've thought an awful lot about that. In fact, I think I'm the only candidate — I am the only candidate in the race — who's actually secured funding to start up the Medicaid expansion program. I've found $35 million. I brokered from the two largest tobacco companies in the world, Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds, and that money has gone directly into the Fund For Healthy Maine, which is available to the Medicaid program. I think the first thing we've got to do is audit the Medicaid program. Find out where the money has gone. There seems to be a surplus there, and what the Appropriations Committee learned was there's plenty of money there right now to start up the program and get it going for the next - for the foreseeable future, for the rest of this budget Biennial. We've also got to look at implementing cost controls, of course, as we go along, see what the claims data shows. See how many people are going to enroll and that what kinds of issues they have, and make sure we focus on preventative care, which is the most cost-effective care. You know when Jane Smith and John Doe go to the emergency room when they break a bone or come down with the flu, that's the most expensive place you can get care. So let's involve ourselves in preventative care, and cost controls, and managed care for high cost treatments.

Rooks: Janet Mills, if Governor what would you do to address Maine's workforce shortage?

Mills: Oh that's a good question, and it's one that we've all been talking about on the campaign trail, and I've been talking with a lot of employers in all different sectors: healthcare, teaching, tech jobs, farming. All employment sectors are seeing this workforce shortage. I've got an Economic Action Plan that I put out several weeks ago. You can see it on my website, and it includes incentives for people to come back to work, come back to Maine to work here. A "Welcome Home" program, for instance, for Maine young people to return to Maine, to open up a business here. It includes a rural workplace grant to help communities build infrastructure, including broadband, and paired with coworking spaces for small businesses in the rural areas, and expanding small businesses in the rural areas too. So we've got a lot of incentives. I support Mattie Daughtry's tax credit program for people graduating from postsecondary schools to come back here and get tax credits for paying off their school loans, paying down their school loans. Those kinds of measures can help encourage young people to move back to Maine, or to stay here in the first place when they graduate from postsecondary education, and contribute their productivity to our workforce.

Rooks: What would you do to address Maine's opioid crisis?

Mills: Well, boy oh boy, this is something I've been working on for the better part of six years now in the office of the Attorney General. We deal with this crisis everyday. When it comes to enforcing child support obligations, people are just not paying child support for needy children because of the drug problem. We have increased numbers of child protection cases. We're going to court to go after parents who are not taking care of their kids because of drug problems. We're enforcing the felony drug laws, making arrests and prosecutions. And the Chief Medical Examiner's Office reports, as we noted a couple of weeks ago, 180 people died of overdoses the first half of this year. Last year alone, we had a 952 babies who were born drug-affected. So for all those reasons, I developed a plan, that's on my website, it's been out there for almost a year. A 10-point plan for addressing the opioid opioid crisis. That includes allowing naloxone to be distributed, widely distributed, to save lives. I've done this myself. I've given out naloxone to — Narcan — to 85 different police departments. And with that Narcan alone we've saved 450 lives, as of this week. 450 lives. Now we've got to find ways to turn those lives around. I like what the legislature did this spring and summer, enacting $6.5 million of funds for treatment facilities and for medication-assisted treatment over the Governor's veto, and in entailing a hub and spokes treatment model, which has worked in Vermont. We also got to get into the schools early and focus on the early grades and involve ourselves in more prevention and education programs.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

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