Maine’s new governor pledges unity in inaugural address

January 3, 2019
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Janet Mills reacts as she greets a friend at her inauguration ceremony, Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2019, at the Augusta Civic Center in Augusta, Maine. Mills, a Democrat, is the state's first female governor. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Janet Mills vowed Wednesday to expand health care, fight climate change and welcome young people and immigrants as she was sworn in as the first woman to serve as Maine’s governor.

As Democrats take over the state Senate and governor’s mansion for the first time in years, Mills once again promised during her inaugural address to restore civil discourse to Maine politics without directly referencing her outspoken predecessor, Republican Paul LePage. LePage weathered an impeachment effort and often made controversial remarks about undocumented immigrants and the influence of “rich liberals in southern Maine.” Mills cited former Gov. Israel Washburn’s 1861 inaugural vow to wave “aside petty schemes and unseemly wrangles.”

“Now our state must find its own common ground, expand our horizons and become one Maine again,” Mills said, describing a state linked by “water, woods and land.”

Mills, who was Maine’s first female attorney general, takes office alongside a historic number of female legislators, but she downplayed the historic first of a woman serving in the Blaine House. “When future generations read of this day, they will wonder what the fuss was about,” she said.

Mills swept aside six opponents in her June primary race and then won a three-way general election with 51 percent.

The inaugural ceremony featured a diverse group: An African-American minister delivered the invocation, and a female rabbi and a member of the Penobscot Nation spoke. Three of Mills’ granddaughters led a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, and two girls — Shy Paca, 11, and Natalia Mbadu, 10 — performed an energetic rendition of “Girl on Fire” by Alicia Keys. The Augusta Civic Center was filled, but one seat remained empty in honor of personnel deployed overseas.

The new governor laid out promises to protect lobsters and forests endangered by climate change in the vast state, whose Gulf of Maine is warming faster than any other saltwater body in the world. She also vowed to install solar panels on the governor’s mansion, weatherize homes and reach a goal of 50 percent of electricity coming from renewable sources.

She promised to bring “talented” young people to the aging state and said she’ll put up a new sign along Maine’s highway reading, “Welcome Home.” Her administration is mulling the future of the “Open for Business” sign placed there by LePage, according to her spokesman.

Rolling out voter-approved Medicaid expansion is another top Mills priority. She spoke of her late friend, Patty, who was uninsured and “died needlessly from breast cancer.”

Mills promised to ensure medication-assisted treatment, recovery coaches and overdose reversal medication are available throughout Maine, which saw 418 people die of drug overdoses last year.

“History will note that we have abandoned an entire generation of people to this preventable disease,” she said.

But Mills, who continues to build her cabinet, also vowed to pay for Medicaid expansion “sustainably.” She warned of a recession in coming years.

LePage, who said he wasn’t attending the ceremony, leaves Maine with a healthy surplus. He has hinted he might run again and said Wednesday he’ll be “watching” as Mills leads.

Mills’ message of welcome drove the crowd to its feet. Ophelia Hu Kinney, 29, of Portland, called Mills’ tone “refreshing.”

“I moved to Maine two and a half years ago and people have waited far longer than I have to feel welcome here,” said Hu Kinney, who is a communications specialist for Reconciling Ministries Network, an organization that promotes LGBT rights.

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