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Wednesday February 01, 2012 | 07:04 PM

Tuesday wasn’t the first time Karen Mills, a Mainer who heads the U.S. Small Business Administration, had attended one of President Obama’s Cabinet meetings. But it was the first time she was in the room – and at the table – as an official member of the Cabinet.

“It was very exciting,” Mills said. “It was a great honor to be officially recognized and at the table.”

Obama last month elevated the position of SBA administrator to Cabinet-level rank. Mills has been in the job since 2009. The Brunswick resident is married to Barry Mills, the president of Bowdoin College.

Mills is a venture capitalist who moved to Maine in 2001 and chaired Maine's Council on Competitiveness and the Economy under Gov. John Baldacci, a Democrat. She is married to Barry Mills, the president of Bowdoin College.

Her promotion could be wiped away by Obama's proposal to consolidate a group of trade- and commerce-oriented federal agencies, including the Small Business Administration. If approved by Congress, that presumably would end the Cabinet-level rank for the SBA administrator, since the agency would lose its independent status.

But Mills said Obama already has shown that he places a priority on small business issues and wants to make sure that all federal agencies assess how new rules and regulations and policies impact on small business, even before his decision to elevate her job to Cabinet-level rank.

“I think the president has been clear that whatever happens in the reorganization, he puts a priority on small business,” Mills said in an interview Wednesday. “He is not going to let small business suffer.”

Among those who have long pushed for the SBA administrator to be elevated to Cabinet-level rank is Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine, the top Republican on the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee.

After Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting, Snowe issued a statement saying that, “Today is a tremendous win for small businesses as Karen Mills took her seat at President Obama’s Cabinet meeting for the first time in her new capacity as a Cabinet-level official. I am grateful hardworking Mainers and Americans across the country have Karen’s pragmatic, reasoned voice advocating for them in this vital role.”

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Kevin Miller is Washington bureau chief for the Portland Press Herald and MaineToday Media. He has worked as a journalist in Maine for 6 ½ years, covering the environment, politics and the State House. Before arriving in Maine, he wrote about politics, government and education for newspapers in Virginia and Maryland.
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