Karen Mills, administrator of the Small Business Association, speaks at Eggs & Issues in Portland in January 2012.
By Kevin Miller
Washington Bureau Chief
WASHINGTON - It didn't take long for the speculation to begin after Karen Mills -- a Maine resident who serves on President Obama's Cabinet -- had announced her plans to step down as head of the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Mills for governor in 2014?
"My first task is to fulfill my promise to the president to ensure an orderly transition at the SBA," Mills, a Democrat, said two days later during her first interviews since the announcement. As for any future plans or political aspirations, Mills said she "had not yet begun the process" of deciding her next step.
Mills' tenure as SBA administrator began in 2009 and was dominated by the administration's efforts to deal with the recession.
For her part, Mills said she was proud of her agency's work to put more than $100 billion in loans into small businesses' pockets in four years by working to thaw banks' frozen credit lines through SBA-guaranteed loans.
She also discussed her agency's efforts to reduce red tape, such as streamlining application processes and instituting an expedited, online system for filing for disaster assistance.
Mills plans to return to Maine where her husband, Barry Mills, serves as president of Bowdoin College. And she sees significant potential in her home state for job growth in such fields as manufacturing and energy.
"We have the potential to be one of the places where we see growth in manufacturing jobs," Mills said, adding that Maine is attractive to entrepreneurs because it is a "spectacularly beautiful state with a great sense of community."
As for any future political plans, Mills' answer was not a "yes" but not a definitive "no," either. Given her high-level experience in Washington and prior experience as a Maine-based venture capitalist, she could find favor with Democrats looking for a candidate with a strong business background.
NO SNOWE IN OBAMA'S FUTURE
President Obama can apparently leave one name off the candidate list for his next SBA administrator: former Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe.
Obama reached out to Snowe, a Republican, in 2009 to gauge her interest in a Cabinet position, but the senator declined. (Snowe has never said publicly which position it was.) And it's not beyond the realm of possibility to envision the president approaching Snowe again, but this time to succeed Mills.
Snowe served for years as either chairman or ranking member of the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee. And she not only nominated Mills for the SBA post, she also reportedly urged Obama to add the position to his Cabinet.
"No, she hasn't received any calls from the White House," her spokesman Lucas Caron said when asked last week. Snowe also had this to say in December when asked if she would consider a Cabinet position:
"If there was some way I could contribute in other ways, but not in a Cabinet post," she told the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram. "I never rule anything out, obviously. But my plan now is to focus on speaking out and helping in any way I can to contribute to rebuilding the notion that compromise and consensus have to be an essential ingredient of the legislative process."
FIX THE DEBT DRAWS MAINE LEADERS
Snowe has, however, lent her name and presumably her time to the Fix the Debt Campaign.
Fix the Debt is a nonpartisan organization of corporate and political leaders trying to pressure Congress to take long-term, definitive action to address the nation's $16 trillion debt. While some activists on the left dismiss it as a corporate pawn group, Fix the Debt has made a name for itself in the debate and has attracted high-profile political leaders to its cause.
Snowe joined the campaign's Congressional Fiscal Leadership Council last week.
Former Maine Gov. John Baldacci, a Democrat, and former Maine Senate President Rick Bennett, a Republican, serve as co-chairs of the Fix the Debt Campaign in Maine.
MAINERS MARCH FOR CLIMATE ACTION
Several hundred Mainers are expected to join tens of thousands of other activists on Sunday for what is being billed as the largest climate change rally in history.
More than 160 organizations from across the country are involved in the Forward on Climate rally, which will take place on the National Mall. Participants will then march from the Washington Monument to the White House in an effort to pressure President Obama to take action on climate change and the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.
Locally, the Sierra Club Maine, the Natural Resources Council of Maine and Environment Maine -- among others -- were organizing groups to go to Washington.
Much to the chagrin of environmental activists and some left-leaning Democrats, the Obama administration did not push for major climate change legislation during the president's first term and the issue was rarely mentioned on the 2012 campaign trail.
But the president has signaled a major shift by talking about the need for action on global warming in both his inaugural address in January and this week's State of the Union address.
Any attempt at major climate change legislation in Congress -- such as a national tax on carbon dioxide emissions or a federal cap-and-trade system -- are guaranteed to encounter ardent opposition.
Washington Bureau Chief Kevin Miller can be reached at 317-6256 or at: