Gov. Janet Mills On Maine Calling: What Priorities and Challenges Does The New Governor See Ahead?
Gov. Janet Mills joins us for a conversation about her newly released budget, her priorities, her recent cabinet picks and how the job is going since her inauguration last month.
Gov. Janet Mills is the 75th governor of Maine, a member of the Democratic Party and Maine's former attorney general. She was sworn in as governor in Jan. 2019.
This transcript has been edited for clarity.
Jennifer Rooks: Gov. Mills, welcome back to Maine Calling. Although you’ve been on the program several times, this is the first time as governor. From your perspective, is the job so far what you thought it would be?
Janet Mills: I’m having a lot of fun. The first task was putting together a government, putting together a cabinet, and we’ve had 14 out of the 15 cabinet members confirmed, sworn in, qualified and working their tails off. Of course, at the same time, we’re doing a budget, and I was really privileged to have some people volunteer in that respect. We had not only Kirsten Figueroa, the new Department of Administration and Financial Services commissioner working on this budget but also Ryan Lowe, who used to be the budget officer and used to be commissioner and now works for the university, and Jeremy Fischer, former chair of the Appropriations Committee and Peggy Rotundo and others really helping go over the backlog of requests from the various departments to determine which ones have the most merit and looking at the revenue forecast, which is put together by an objective, independent team of economists who meet twice a year and put together the revenue forecasts for the next couple of years. And we base it all on that.
I know that there is a backlog of requests, a lot of different constituents coming to you expecting something from you. How did you choose your priorities in putting together this budget?
What I heard on the campaign trail were several things. One is people were demanding better health care and lower health insurance rates, big issues for business and for individuals across the state of Maine. Secondly, I heard a lot about education. People want to have more state support for K-12 education. People want more emphasis on early childhood education, including Head Start and pre-K and CDS, the child development services, because we all know that one thing that contributes to, for instance, the opioid epidemic and inability to finish school are things like adverse childhood experiences. The way we address those things early on is to have appropriate and informed child care and Head Start services and pre-K available, not mandated but optional, for 4-year-olds to be able to socialize and even on a half-day basis be able to have some instructional benefits. CDS of course kicks in at infancy and for young kids who need special services, so we want to support all those needs.
So really using the information you learned from the campaign trail informed your priorities?
Sure and the opioid epidemic is something I had been dealing with for six years in particular as attorney general. It impacted every aspect of our work as attorney general — it impacted licensing, regulatory issues, the medical examiner’s office, the criminal division, natural resources when it comes to disposal of drugs and whatnot, the health care crimes unit. So we’ve been looking at that — even child protection and child support matters. People not being able to pay child support because they’re spending the money on drugs and keeping tabs on the overdose death statistics from one year to the next. We know from Attorney General Aaron Frye’s release earlier this week that 282 people died in the first nine months of last year from drug overdose. That is exactly one a day basically. So it’s an ongoing epidemic that we’ve got to address.
This budget depends on strong revenue, a strong economy. It’s an 11 percent increase over the last budget, and the Republicans are already questioning its sustainability, I’m sure you’ve already heard it over and over again. What do you say to them?
I’m happy to carry on a long dialogue with them over the next few months. As I pointed out in the budget address last night, this budget is sustainable. The budget estimates, the figures, are based on the revenue forecasting commission. I didn’t appoint them, they weren’t appointed by me, they’re part and parcel of the prior administration. They’re experts in their area, including the state economist and nonpartisan individuals. They put together a revenue forecast that anticipates in the out years — never mind this coming biennium, but the following biennium — they forecast $8.3 billion in revenues to be available, just general fund revenues. So this budget is much less than that, and it takes into account no new taxes. There no gimmicks, there are no negative balances. We’re not playing around with moving things from one year to the next as sometimes happens, and we’re preserving the $270-odd million stabilization fund, or the rainy day fund. We’re not touching that. We proposed not to touch that, because I think it is important. Like most people in their own budgets, you try to have savings available in case of a downturn, in case of something untoward happening. In this case, I feel pretty confident about Maine’s economic future. The housing starts have been pretty stable in the last couple of years, construction sales are stable, revenue from sales taxes, especially during the height of tourist season, are very good, and income taxes and corporate taxes are good. Some of that depends on how the new federal tax law plays out. But the Federal Reserve has promised not to increase interest rates again this year. If they do so next year, that could cause some problems in terms of bonding and in terms of homeowners and mortgage rates and that kind of thing. So we’re keeping money in reserve in case of a downturn, however slight. And I think that’s an appropriate thing to do. [00:07:16][126.0]
Your predecessor, Gov. Paul LePage, said yesterday that you spend money like a drunken sailor. Would you care to respond?
The budget, as you know because you were a legislator, has to go through a process now and you know it’ll change. And I’m wondering if there are any items, any priorities in your budget that you view as nonnegotiable. Is there something that if it’s not there, if the budget doesn’t have this, you’re going to veto it?
No, we’re not at that stage yet. I’ll tell you, the priorities that I outlined last night will remain pretty much the same. More funding for education from the state. We put $126 million on the table here for additional state funds for K-12 through the essential programs and services formula. That’s a lot of additional funds for the state’s share for education. That alone would bring us up to almost 51 percent state funding for education through the formula statewide. The other thing is the opioid epidemic. And this doesn’t take that much money, it takes a concentration, takes a focus and it takes prioritization. Right now without any additional funds, any additional taxpayer dollars, we’ve identified several million dollars in funds that are currently sitting at the Department of Health and Human Services, federal money that has not been allocated, that should be and will be allocated to purchasing Narcan, for instance, and hiring recovery coaches, and going into the schools and starting new prevention and education programs and figuring out what works and what perhaps doesn’t work, and engaging the communities, because it’s got to be an all-out community effort, if we’re to seriously address this epidemic.
What is the timeline on that? The federal funds that you talked about last night in your budget address that you would like Maine to be able to draw down? I’m sure there are deadlines for those, and a process. Are these funds that we will see soon, or is this something we’re going to be looking at in 2020?
All of the above. Some of the funds that have been turned away in the past, such as Forest Legacy Program money; several hundred thousand dollars for Alzheimer’s identification, treatment and diagnosis; several hundred thousand dollars for colorectal cancer screening tests, with no state match in many of these cases; money for childhood hunger and childhood diseases. That’s money that is owed us that our people paid in. People in Maine paid federal taxes and that money, instead of coming back to Maine, is going to other states instead. So why would we turn it away? They all have different time frames and I’ll be working closely with the congressional delegation, be meeting with them at the end of next week to determine what we can do, how we can better draw down federal funds. For instance, broadband — Connect America funds will be available. I want to make sure Maine gets its fair share of that because we have some of the highest needs for expanding broadband. We have a dispersed population, and we have those funky peninsulas. Very hard to lay fiber along those lines. So we want federal money for that. Federal money for health care needs, antiterrorism needs, public safety and roads. I signed one document a couple of weeks ago that had not been signed previously to draw down $13 million in federal funds for roads.
Is there anything, now that you’re in the Blaine House and sitting in the governor’s office, that you didn’t expect to come over your desk that has? Is there any priority that’s something that’s maybe not being talked about in the headlines but in your view will emerge as a major issue in Maine?
That’s a pretty tough question. Nothing jumps off the page right now. The view is different. You know I think when you put on the mantle of the governorship, it’s a whole different ballgame than assuming the position of attorney general or any other executive or public position. It’s a whole different thing. I went to a funeral recently of a very prominent individual, a very caring and influential person. And I got to say to the family, ‘You know it’s not just me Janet Mills expressing sympathy, I express sympathy and condolences on behalf of the 1.3 million people in the state of Maine whom he served in various capacities.’ And it’s a whole different thing to represent the people of the state of Maine, not just yourself or an agency or a particular part of government, you’re representing the people.
There’s a lawsuit going on against Aroostook County and particularly the prison about medication-assisted treatment there, MAT. I know that you have issued guidance to Maine State Prison’s system about medication-assisted treatment encouraging the prisons — I don’t want to put words in your mouth — but encouraging the warden and prison to look into incorporating this for people who come to prison with addictions. What is your point of view of what the county jails need to be doing at this point? Again, you don’t have jurisdiction, but have been attorney general and a district attorney.
I don’t want to comment on any pending lawsuits or any litigation. I know the Penobscot County Jail has made available something called Vivitrol, which is a 30-day, effective Suboxone-type medication, and with after care. And I’ll credit my my predecessor for helping out with that, for providing the funds for the Penobscot County Jail to start out a medication-assisted release program. I’ve talked to the governor of Rhode Island, Gina Raimondo — my commissioner of corrections Randy Liberty and the commissioner of HHS and the commissioner of public safety Michael Sauschuck have all been talking to Rhode Island, and seeing how we can duplicate what they have done in their jails. They have what appears to be a very effective release program. If somebody is in jail and has a substance use disorder, which proximately 75 percent of inmates statewide and nationwide have, then they can, before their release date, are given medication-assisted treatments, suboxone and the like and released with that program and with wraparound services. Here’s some help getting a job. Here’s some help getting housing in someplace where you might not fall back in with a crowd you were in before, that kind of thing. And they’ve reduced the recidivism rate to a large extent and they’ve reduced the relapse rate of those with substance use disorder. We have drug courts, five and going on six now, and they’re pretty effective that way too. But we want to get the people who are incarcerated and make sure that we help them recover too. It’s a boon to society as a whole and a boon to them as well.
In western Maine, CMP and Hydro-Quebec are working on a new deal they say will offer at least a quarter of a billion dollars in new value to Maine, including reduced electricity rates for all Maine ratepayers and help for low-income residents. Can you support the project if it provides these benefits?
Looking at the details I think they have not yet been ironed out. In general what I have said and I continue to say is that I want to see substantial environmental mitigation, I want to see help for the sportsmen and women who are seeing a lessening of the deer wintering areas and things of that sort, I want to see help for ratepayers, I want to see efforts towards increasing access and availability of community and residential solar, I want to see access to broadband and all those things are on the table. And so I’m happy with the progress that is being made and I’m anxious to see the details.
So what you’ve seen before doesn’t satisfy that yet?
I haven’t seen the precise details. I like the progress that they’re making and I like the subject areas they’re addressing. Electric vehicles, for instance, and electric vehicle charging stations all over Maine. I can see that happening and I appreciate and welcome their help in that regard.
I know that you have announced you’d like to have a new cabinet-level position for energy. Do you know who that person is?
I’m sorry, I regret that I can’t make that announcement.
Are you hoping that the Legislature can pass this budget by April?
I’m hoping they pass and I get to sign a two-thirds budget on or before June 30. I definitely want this to be a bipartisan budget.
Audience member Harold: Hello Gov. Mills. I’m impressed with what you’ve been saying but I just want to see what your thoughts are regarding the issues of older Mainers, including things like drug costs or drug information, their food insecurity or even information or getting things out regarding better qualities and diet, and in general what you what your thoughts and concerns are.
A couple of things in the budget that you might be interested in are the fact that we’re putting more funds behind the drug for Maine’s elderly program and the Medicare savings plan, which have been kind of depleted the last 10 years. When I was on the Appropriations Committee for four years we worked on that quite assiduously. And we want to replenish those funds to help Maine seniors who don’t qualify for any of the specific Medicare drug benefits plans to help them with their drug costs. I think it’s appalling how drug companies around the world are increasing their prices, especially for Americans. We help subsidize the research and then we see them spend billions each year advertising on TV. And quite frankly I’m most particularly annoyed with the Sackler family and those who distributed and marketed opioids for the wrong reasons, and with the wrong marketing, and got people basically hooked on these drugs. But in addition, I’ve been working with Sen. Eloise Vitelli for a couple of years on a drug transparent price transparency bill and we’re going to continue to work on that too.
Audience Member Lance: In addition to the much needed tobacco prevention control funding increase, included in the proposed budget, what other measures does the governor support to address the youth e-cigarette epidemic?
Now let’s be clear, these are products that are not clean, they’re not clear of nicotine, they actually contain nicotine. Some of the statistics we’ve seen recently show that about 20 percent of all seniors in high school have regularly smoked or inhaled e-cigs and engaged in what’s called vaping. This is more than annoying, it’s troublesome because of the nicotine in those products. The producers of many of them are owned by tobacco companies. The intent of getting kids hooked on these apparatus is to get them hooked on nicotine and ultimately stay hooked on nicotine, take up cigarettes, cigars and cigarillos, and we know the devastating health consequences to that. So public education, cessation products for those who are already hooked on nicotine. We have a very high rate of tobacco use in Maine and we haven’t addressed it successfully. When the Fund for Healthy Maine was invented about 20 years ago, we developed purposes for that money. We’re going to go back to some of the original purposes for that money and include tobacco cessation and nicotine prevention and cessation in those funds.
Audience Member Charlie: I’m calling about mentally ill people who unfortunately sometimes become violent. And in Maine and across the country they are housed in our jails and prisons and not getting treatment. I think we pretty much know that mentally ill people will not be violent if properly treated. My specific question is would you take the money that LePage set aside for a new forensic psychiatric facility and put it back into treatment centers where people can be taken by the police instead of to an E.R. or jail?
That’s an interesting concept. And I know there is some legislation pending to set up crisis centers around the state. I haven’t seen the details. I think the idea is good, but then again you’ve got civil liberties interests at stake here. How do you keep somebody behind bars, whether it’s a crisis stabilization unit or jail, without proper due process? We don’t want to go back to the days of institutionalization of people simply because of their mental illness. But I agree with you that a high proportion of people in prisons and jails right now have some form of mental illness that has gone untreated. I would like to see more services in the jails and in the correctional facilities of the state. Whether we take that money from the stepdown facility is an open question. I think that we’re looking at the details of the stepdown facility right now, because we also have a high need to address the forensic patients in Riverview and some of whom are being housed at Dorothea Dix now. It’s a separate problem but equally serious. And I want to make sure we do the right thing by them and by their families and make sure that they are successfully treated so they can re-enter society at an appropriate time.
Audience Member Leigh: I want to say how proud I am to finally have a woman in this leadership position in our state and I think you’ve done some great things right off the bat. Your selection for the head of DECF I think is awesome. As I understand it you’re going to be supporting the office of outdoor recreation, which I think will do so many wonderful things for our state, so thank you for all of that. One thing that I was disappointed in thus far was your selection of Jerry Reid, and I wondered if you would speak to why you thought that he was the best person for that position even though you knew that the tribes likely would not support him.
I think the issues about the tribes were pretty well aired during his committee hearing, and I think we had to disabuse some misinformation at that point too. He was misquoted in a federal court hearing, and he set the record straight there. He’s had a good relationship with a lot of people and it’s significant to me that most of the environmental community came out and supported him and many of the businesses approved of him and the committee supported them. I think it was unanimous, 11-0. So he’s a real genuine guy, he’s very thoughtful, he’s very intelligent and he knows environmental law and regulation and that’s an extremely important position. I wanted somebody with good common sense and judgment and preferably legal background, which he has, and knowledge of the environmental laws and regulations, federal and state. He’s taken on the federal government. He’s been part of the lawsuits against the federal government when they try to roll back the mercury and airborne toxics rule, for instance, and that’s a lot of what’s poisoning our waterways in Maine. We need to join the tribes in those kinds of fights and we are doing that.
Rooks: There are several related questions just about the relationship with the tribes in the state. What’s your gameplan for trying to improve relations?
A lot depends on the different tribes, the individual tribes. There are four different ones as you know, and one with two different reservations, and I think their needs are all different. I don’t pretend to tell them what they want or what they should expect from state government, but we have the dialogue going, we have that conversation going, conversation that I really did not have an opportunity to engage in as attorney general because we were on the other side of some litigation and they have legal counsel, the Penobscots do anyway. We did assist the Passamaquoddy tribe in some respects and now opening up the dialogue is important. I have much broader authority and jurisdiction and ability to an opportunity to talk with the tribes about various issues as we go along. I was pleased to choose Donna Loring as our liaison with the tribes and she’s going to do a lot of traveling around the state, meeting with different tribal councils and finding out where they’re at on different issues. We have a lot to work together on. The opioid epidemic alone, it is distressing to hear that in one reservation alone there were two opioid overdose deaths in just a matter of weeks recently. We want to work together on those kinds of issues.
Audience Member Alberto: How come we don’t have school resource officers at every single high school?
I like the idea of school resource officers. A lot depends on the local school district and the local police departments and county sheriff’s offices to see how they can afford to have a part-time or full-time school resource officer. In some cities they have them in the lower grades and middle schools and high schools. But I think that’s pretty rare. Mostly they’re in the high schools. And I think they’re most effective in the middle schools and high schools. But we want to develop better community relationships between the police departments and the schools and make sure we have an open dialogue between students and police officers in every community. Funding that is a whole different ballgame, and the governor is not really in a position to say we’re going to fund a school resource person in every school. There’s just too many schools and too many police departments who are strapped for cash. We are authorizing the hiring of 15 additional troopers and sergeants for the Maine State Police, so they are going to be available especially in the rural areas, have a 24-hour presence just for the regular duties of law enforcement. That in itself is challenging.
Audience Member Mary: With our aging population, do you have any ideas on how to not only keep young people in the state but entice other young people to move here. Can we get rid of the idea that Maine is just a vacationland but it’s a place people will want to move to and stay?
Great idea. And we heard a lot about that on the campaign trail last year. I’ve been talking a lot about that exact same thing. I feel like the office of the governor is a couple things. One is you’re a manager, you’re administrator, you’re running a budget, you’re trying to support things. A budget is sometimes a statement of values, and in this budget we do put money behind the university system and the community colleges and Maine Maritime Academy, we do put some money behind broadband. My new DECD commissioner Heather Johnson is remarkably adept at identifying federal monies and managing state monies so as to market the whole state of Maine, not just as a tourism destination but as a place where families should come and live, work and play, and work remotely or start a new business. That’s our gameplan. I just want to be the biggest cheerleader for the state of Maine. I want to tell the world what a great place we are, what great people we have with a great work ethic, and what incredible unmatched natural resources. I think people will come here.
Audience Member David: You have spoken of climate change as a priority, so I’m wondering what initiatives you are creating to address it, especially the erosion of our beaches and threats to the shoreline.
Some years ago the Legislature authorized a study on ocean acidification and we’ve been talking a lot about the rising seas. But we’ve done nothing about it. And I think one of the items we’ve got to look at is community resilience and increasing the resiliency of our coastal communities. I know there are legislators like Rep. Lydia Bloom and others who are very intent on taking action in that regard. We’re going to be putting together a climate change and energy cabinet to look at a myriad of issues. We know that the Gulf of Maine is changing a great deal, that the lobster population has shifted, that cod fisheries have depleted, that the herring fisheries are essentially closed down and that we’re looking at new ways of farming oysters and scallops. We’re looking at diversifying our aquaculture and our agricultural interests. But climate change is a big factor all around. And what I’ve decided is I want every single department of state government to be looking at climate change. Department of Education, Department of Transportation, Health and Human Services, all of them. But the oceans issue is a real big one obviously for a lot of reasons, and erosion is a major one. Our DEP Commissioner Jerry Reed will also be looking at that too.
Audience Member Riley: I was once fresh from the Army and moved to Maine. I worked at the distribution center for Shaw’s and as a cable guy in Wells. I made more money washing dishes when I moved to Seattle. The minimum wage is too low and that is why young people can’t live in Maine. They risk spinning their wheels never getting to a point where a millennial like me can buy a home.
I think that efforts in the last few years in particular to increase the minimum wage have been successful. It is going up every year. Then there’s an indexing that kicks in I think after next year. But I think equally important is what you take home from your paycheck, and that means cost of living and benefits packages, that is health insurance and leave policies, things of that sort that are very important to employees and employers. One of my goals is to help small businesses find adequate and affordable health insurance for their employees. Because if you’re taking home $30,000, $40,000 a year but you’re paying $6,000 a year for health insurance, that takes a big chunk of change out of your pocket and out of things you could be spending money on. To buy a car, to put money into a home or rent an apartment and that kind of thing. So we want to look at both ends of the spectrum. The wage is one thing, the benefits is another, and they’re equally important.
Audience Member Dick: I haven’t heard anyone talk about Land for Maine’s Future and development of the state parks and wondering what you’ve got in the budget for those two items.
Land for Maine’s Future generally comes under bond issues, and we’ve reserved money for interest payments in the budget for the biennial coming up, for payment toward a bond that would include Land for Maine’s Future. We did not propose a specific amount but clearly that’s a priority. When the people are given the opportunity to vote on Land for Maine’s Future bonds they overwhelmingly accept them and vote them in. So I think that’s an important indicator of the public support for Land for Maine’s Future. And yes they will be meeting, yes I will encourage my commissioners take part in those meetings. And I’m particularly interested in waterfront access too, that’s one of the things that Land for Maine’s Future can allot money toward, and ties in with the previous question about coastal communities too.
Audience Member Ed: Restoring river herring passage on Maine’s rivers. Most now are dammed. There has been a crash in cod and Atlantic herring stocks. River herring passage can help bring back Atlantic salmon and cod. Could you please help make sure that fish and eel passage will be improved on the Union River and on all Maine rivers?
That sounds like a Commissioner of Marine Resources, Pat Keliher, question to me. I’m a fisherman, I like fly fishing for you know for brookies and stuff, but I’m not up to date on the river herring issue and the Union River in particular, so I can’t really comment. But I love the question and I’ll ask Keliher what he thinks about that because I think that’s in his jurisdiction.
Audience Member Edward: I had a question about voters and their trust. LePage did a lot of bad things for voters’ trust, with citizens initiatives. I know you voted Medicaid in right away when you got in. But how else will you help to restore voters’ trust?
I guess I have to earn it. I have to earn it every day. I don’t take anything for granted in this job. I hope that the voters will know that I have an open door. I want to hear from people. I’ll be going out to the communities in the next few weeks and months and listen to people around the state, whether it’s Eastport, Dover-Foxcroft, Machias, Sanford, etc., all over the state, because I want to talk to people on the ground. I don’t want to have my information about what Maine people think distilled through lobbyists and experts and staffpeople, I want to hear directly from the people. That’s one thing I can do. I’m trying to pay attention to them.
Audience Member Dan: An article in a New Hampshire business magazine basically states that Maine spends twice what New Hampshire does on tourist marketing. And I’m just kind of curious how when we have so many talented ad agencies in Maine, Maine has been sending tens of millions of dollars to Wisconsin. The people in Wisconsin don’t know Maine. as a political and economic refugee from Franklin County I’m please asking you to look into Maine tourism. That money can be better spent to help small, family-owned businesses in Oxford, Franklin, Piscataquis and Androscoggin counties.
I’ll be happy to look at that. Now that we have a commissioner on board as of last week, she’s anxious to look at everything the department is doing too. And somebody mentioned earlier the outdoor recreation position which is in DECD right now. And I love what Carolann Ouellette is doing there. I want her and that department to work more closely with IF&W, the fish and wildlife people, and with agriculture, conservation and forestry people, because we want to break down those silos and make sure that we market Maine appropriately. The hunting population has diminished somewhat in the last few years too. We want to make sure people know that Maine is an excellent place to come to hunt and to fish, to hike, to enjoy the great outdoors. I go to public parks in Rangeley and Greenville and all over the state of Maine. And people don’t know that those parks are there. I agree we should be marketing Maine much more effectively.
Audience Member Dixie: I’m interested in what the policies will be for people who are autistic or have intellectual disability. I have a son who’s 25 years old and has really struggled with the level of availability of services for what his need is.
The increase in autism is astounding, and we don’t really know why that’s happening, but I can tell you it’s personal to me because I have a grandchild who has autism and he’s aging out of the school system now, and we know that the Section 21 and Section 29 waivers have had waitlists, and we’re addressing that in the budget. Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew is addressing that as best she can as well. And it’s a sticky problem for a lot of families all across the state of Maine, and dealing with it in the schools too, it’s not just HHS, it’s the Department of Education and local school districts having to deal with different levels of autism. As you know, it’s not one set disease, there’s a spectrum, and different children different adults have different needs. So accommodating all those different needs. But it’s our responsibility as a government with public trust to address those needs and to make sure all our kids are taken care of and all of our adults with those issues. I don’t know if your son is in a work setting or going to dayhab or living in a residential facility, but these are all challenges we’re going to be looking at.
Audience Member Emery: I’m an ER physician, I practice here in Augusta and I’m doing a fellowship in obesity medicine, and I would tell you that about 90 percent of what I see in the E.R. is 100 percent preventable through lifestyle changes, and a lot of our chronic disease is due to obesity. By 2020, 90 percent of the U.S. adult population will be overweight or obese. And it really starts in childhood. And I’m wondering if there’s anybody doing anything for getting processed food out of schools. Because we’re seeing the childhood obesity rate is now one out of five children. So we’ve got kids who are going have heart attacks by the time they’re in their 30s. And I just don’t see really a push, and I appreciate all your work on the opiate epidemic but I see this as a much worse problem. So I’m just wondering there’s thoughts on childhood nutrition in schools.
My sister has been involved in this, Dora Mills used to be head of the CDC and in more recent years she developed a program for SNAP recipients, I can’t remember what it’s called, but to educate families who are getting food assistance about the best foods and how to cook them, basic education. In terms of the school lunch program, I know the federal government has some kind of measures of low fat foods, calorie-sensitive meals, things of that sort. And I read in the paper just a couple weeks ago that they were thinking of paring that back and allowing more junk food in schools. I don’t like that. I don’t think we should be encouraging kids to eat junk foods and sodas that are replacement calories and don’t do you any good. So I agree with your priority, I agree that obesity is a major problem. I’ll be thinking about it in the coming weeks and see if we can do something more about it at the state level. I know people like Craig Hickman in the Maine Legislature have been pushing for more fruits and vegetables in the schools and more homegrown, Maine-grown products from our own agricultural interests, so good ideas and thank you for your insights. I’m amazed at your observations. I guess they probably agree with mine anecdotally, but to hear it from a professional dealing with it in the emergency room is pretty astounding.
Audience Member Marpheen: I know you love poetry. Me too. How will you prioritize the arts in Maine schools, which helps with critical thinking, something important in today’s world of information overload and fake news?
I’d like to see a comeback in the arts in schools. Too often the arts and music have taken a back seat to the programs that are more aligned with what we’ve called learning results, the things that kids are tested on a different levels of schooling. And that’s unfortunate. I fully support the arts and music in the schools. Not sure what I can do as governor, but I would support you to weigh in at your local school board, school committee, to make sure that they don’t set aside the arts and music and that kind of education. I feel strongly that literature and poetry are an important part of everybody’s lives and should be, because it helps us to see how other people live, it helps us to see how others think and feel what’s out there in ways that we can’t do in the ordinary course of business in a day.