AUGUSTA – Jen Cloukey, a single mother of four from Bowdoinham, never expected to be in the political spotlight.

But on Wednesday she was, one of just a couple of Mainers who were highlighted by Gov. Paul LePage during his inaugural speech before more than 5,000 people at the Augusta Civic Center.

After outlining his plans to reform Maine’s welfare system, Maine’s first Republican governor in 16 years shared a bit of Cloukey’s story.

“Jennifer works two or three jobs at any given time, but also has to rely on (welfare) to make ends meet for her family; seven years ago, she built a home for herself and her kids through Habitat for Humanity,” he said. “Jennifer was determined to be a good example for her kids and other single moms, and this coming May she will graduate from nursing school.”

Like LePage, she is a survivor of domestic violence.

Cloukey, who studies nursing at the University of Maine at Augusta, and her family survived a nearly fatal car accident on Interstate 295 in December 2007.

Her hard work, determination and positive attitude have made her a success story, said LePage, and an example of the goal of his administration’s plan for welfare reform.

After the inauguration, Cloukey said, “It does feel like things have been brought down to a level where somebody like me can say something — you know, just a mom, just a student — that I’m important. He’s recognizing the worth of the individuals that make up the state of Maine.”

LePage’s life story drew her to him in the primary, Cloukey said.

“I kept thinking, ‘That’s the one that I can agree with and am excited about his ideas,’” said Cloukey, an unenrolled voter who typically votes for Republicans.

She praised LePage’s vision of a tiered welfare system.

“There have been times in my life … when I’ve been on welfare and not in college, and I thought, ‘If I get a job I might lose this.’ And you get trapped,” she said. ” I’m not in that position anymore, but I know there’s other people that are still there.”

A tiered system would provide motivation to people, while assuring they would not be left on their own until they are ready, she said.

“They need to know that they can do it, that they can take that first step and it’s going to be OK,” Cloukey said. 

MaineToday Media State House Writer Rebekah Metzler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at: rmetzler@mainetoday.com