March 24, 2011

A Maine 'treasure' puts face on budget

The finance commissioner is considered a dedicated public servant who stays true to his rural roots.

By Susan M. Cover
State House Bureau

AUGUSTA - You might expect Sawin Millett, a self-described baseball addict and lifelong Mainer, to be a diehard Red Sox fan.

Sawin Millett
click image to enlarge

State Finance Commissioner Sawin Millett testifies at a legislative budget hearing March 4 at the State House in Augusta. “I knew this was a natural fit for me,” he said during a recent interview.

Associated Press file photo

Sawin Millett
click image to enlarge

Sawin Millett


SAWIN MILLETT has been confirmed as the commissioner of the Maine Department of Administrative and Financial Services.

THIS STORY is part of a MaineToday Media series profiling Gov. Paul LePage’s Cabinet appointments.


The Department of Administrative and Financial Services serves as the principal fiscal adviser to the governor, negotiates contracts with labor unions, oversees the maintenance of state-owned buildings and grounds, and provides accounting support for state agencies.

It has 10 bureaus, including alcoholic beverages, budget office, information technology, employee relations, financial and personnel services, general services, human resources, lottery operations, revenue services and state controller.

The department was created in 1991 by merging the departments of administration and finance.



LePage's Proposed Cabinet

William Beardsley
Age: 67
Experience: President of Husson University in Bangor for 22 years. Candidate for Maine governor in 2010; Alaska Department of Commerce and Economic Development; professor; assistant to the president, Bangor Hydro

David Bernhardt
Age: 50
Experience: Director of engineering and operations, Maine Department of Transportation for which he has worked for 26 years.
Profile: DOT nominee never one to lean on his shovel

Stephen Bowen
Age: 41
Experience: Maine Heritage Policy Center; two-term member, Maine House of Representatives; high school teacher

Darryl Brown
Environmental Protection
Age: 66
Experience: Founder, Main-Land Development Consultants Inc.
Profile: Darryl Brown: Self-described conservationist draws bead on DEP 'attitude'

Philip Congdon
Economic and Community Development
Age: 69
Experience: Engineer, worked for Texas Instruments.
Profile: Commissioner values honesty, common sense

Maj. Gen. John Libby
Defense, Veterans and Emergency Management
Age: 66
Professional experience: Commissioner of Maine Department of Defense, Veterans and Emergency Management; Maine Emergency Management Agency, Maine National Guard

Mary Mayhew
Health and Human Services
Age: 46
Professional experience: Vice president and lobbyist for the Maine Hospital Association
Profile: Health and Human Services gets a real fighter

Sawin Millett
Administrative and Financial Services
Age: 73
Professional experience: Commissioner of education, commissioner of state finance, associate commissioner Dept. of Mental Health/Mental Retardation, four-term state representative

John Morris
Public Safety
Age: 71
Professional experience: Director of Public Safety, Waterville; chief of police, Waterville, Raymond; U.S. naval captain
Profile: Safety chief seen as thoughtful, fair, forthright

Norman Olsen
Marine Resources
Age: 59
Experience: Diplomat, U.S. State Department; reporter; commercial fisherman
Profile: Chief of marine resources brings fishing background, diplomacy to his new post

Joseph Ponte
Age: 64
Professional experience: Warden, privately owned prison in Nevada; corrections departments in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Idaho
Profile: Ponte relishes a challenge-->

Walter Whitcomb
Age: 58
Experience: Dairy farmer; six-term member of the Maine House of Representatives

Chandler Woodcock
Inland Fisheries and Wildlife
Age: 61
Experience: Executive director, Maine Harness Horsemen's Association; 2006 GOP nominee, Maine governor; former state senator

Yet truth be told, since the 1946 World Series, when St. Louis beat Boston four games to three, he's loved the Cardinals.

"I guess I was searching for a role model or a hero," he said. "I was so impressed with the way Stan Musial not only performed on the field, but conducted himself. He was an absolute gentleman."

So is Millett, according to those who have worked with him through the years.

"The best way I can describe Sawin is a real patriot in the most honorable sense of the word," said Sen. Richard Rosen, R-Bucksport, chairman of the Appropriations Committee. "He truly believes in public service and he really has dedicated his skill, energy and enthusiasm to do everything he can to improve conditions in the state of Maine."

Millett, 73, earned unanimous approval in January from the state Senate to serve as commissioner of the state Department of Administrative and Financial Services. Key Democrats and Republicans spoke on his behalf at his confirmation hearing, a day when he was in so much pain from an infection following knee replacement surgery he could barely stand.

And while all Cabinet members play an important role in running state government, it's not a stretch to say Millett -- who has served three previous governors in various roles -- is the cornerstone to helping LePage reach his goals.

"Having served five years on this floor creating the department, knowing the players, having a strong interest in budget, I knew this was a natural fit for me," he said during a recent interview in the Cross State Office Building.

Until the November election, Millett was hoping to continue his legislative career as he attempted to switch from the House to the Senate. But he lost his Senate District 14 race to Democrat John Patrick.

LePage then quickly contacted Millett to gauge his interest in serving in the Cabinet.

Since then, he's been the public face of the $6.1 billion, two-year budget, a controversial proposal that has angered state workers and teachers because of proposed pension reforms. It's also raised concern among public health supporters because of proposed cuts to drug-treatment programs and home-visitation programs for young mothers.

Through it all, Millett has remained unflappable as he's fielded questions from lawmakers or taken criticism from affected groups.

Millett credits his parents, particularly his father, with instilling in him a sense of duty when it comes to public service.

His dad, Howard S. Millett, was a teacher, principal and superintendent of schools, while his mother, Marguerite, was primarily a homemaker who also worked as a secretary for superintendents. Millett is the second oldest of five boys, all of whom helped out on the family dairy farm before heading to school each day.

After moving a few times as his dad changed jobs, the family settled in Dixmont when Millett was in fourth grade. They had a dairy farm that at one point grew to 60 cows.

"The five boys really grew up on the farm," he said. "We had a great life. All finished high school in the area, all went on to college."

Millett graduated from Carmel High School in 1955, a school that later closed. After high school, he went to Bates College, following in his mother's and father's footsteps.

After a few years of teaching math and science at his old high school and one year at Hermon High School, he was chosen to be a district-wide supervisor for a new junior high school program. It involved building a new school and Millett stayed in the system until 1971.

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