AUGUSTA — Democrat Janet Mills became Maine’s 75th governor and the first woman to hold the office in the state’s 199-year history on Wednesday, pledging to invite diverse voices to policy debates and to erect a “Welcome Home” sign at the state’s southern border.

Mills took the oath of office before a fired-up crowd of several thousand at the Augusta Civic Center after an inaugural ceremony filled with pomp and circumstance, as well as a multicultural array of speakers and performers. The Farmington resident and former attorney general pledged to “dive into major policy challenges, foster collaboration and propose concrete, workable solutions.”

“We are all in this together,” Mills said. “We all want Maine to have a beautiful environment, happy people and prosperous communities.”

Mills defeated six Democratic primary contenders in June and then two opponents in the general election. Her victory was part of a Democratic wave that saw the party regain control of the Maine Senate, strengthen its majority in the Maine House and flip the 2nd Congressional District seat.

During her speech, Mills spoke of the state’s “unsung heroes.”

“They are the firefighters and teachers, the techies and hotel workers, the farmers and fishermen, the waiters and loggers, and the barbers and millworkers of our towns,” Mills said. “They are our friends, our neighbors. They are immigrants. Laborers. Veterans. People with disabilities. People from away. People we rely on every day. And many who rely on us.”


Mills is the first woman to occupy the governor’s office in a state with a long history of electing women to every other top post. In her speech, Mills paid tribute to other Maine women who broke free of conventional roles, from fly-fishing icon Cornelia “Fly Rod” Crosby to the late U.S. Sen. Margaret Chase Smith.

Mills said she has received many letters since winning the election in November, but one from an 8-year-old girl named Lucy resonated with her.

“‘Now I feel like I could become governor someday,'” Mills said Lucy wrote to her.

In a sweeping speech, Mills used the Sandy River in her home county as a metaphor, saying rivers and streams – like people – sometimes change their paths.

“Sometimes our culture moves slowly in the stream of change,” Mills said. “Streams, like the people of Maine, change direction on occasion to find the best way forward. Many days I awake to see the mist rising from the Sandy River as it steers its course to the Kennebec, the winter’s breath unveiling a new day in my hometown, a new day in this state.”

She announced her clear intention to expand Medicaid in Maine as approved by voters, dedicating that effort to a friend who died from breast cancer that went undiagnosed because the friend did not have health insurance.


That policy will be a dramatic shift from the one taken by her predecessor in the Blaine House, Republican Paul LePage, who vetoed Medicaid expansions approved by the Legislature six times.

“Health care is for everyone, not just the well to do,” Mills said.

She also said her administration would take an aggressive approach to the state’s opioid overdose crisis, announcing the creation of a director of Opiate Response to coordinate the state’s efforts to fight the ongoing addiction crisis.

“The allure of opiates can fill a hole in the human heart caused by loneliness, stress and hopelessness,” Mills said. “Even as I speak, there is someone within the sound of my voice about to consume a deadly drug, jeopardizing themselves, their friends, their families and their communities. If that person is listening, please know that I – and many others – are here for you.”

Mills also promised to seriously tackle climate change, announcing that within weeks she would have solar panels installed at the Blaine House.

“Tonight I say: Enough,” Mills said to loud cheers. “Enough with studies, talk and debate. It is time to act!”


Mills also said she would follow the advice of the late author Kurt Vonnegut, who said every government should have an Office of the Future.

“My administration will create an Office of Innovation and the Future,” Mills said. “This office will dive into major policy challenges, foster collaboration and propose concrete, workable solutions. Let’s look ahead for a change.”

In closing, Mills vowed to erect a sign reading simply “Welcome Home” just across the Maine-New Hampshire border in Kittery as a way to recruit new Mainers. Subject to approval by the Maine Turnpike Authority – currently headed by Mills’ brother, Peter Mills – the sign would be a change from the “Open for Business” signs that LePage installed soon after his inauguration in 2011.

It was a line she repeated in the close of the speech.

“Tomorrow we rise before the dawn – like the mist over the Sandy River – and seek adventure, with hope in our hearts and love in our souls for the brand-new day,” Mills said. “To all of you, and to the people of Maine, I say, ‘Welcome home. Welcome home.’ ”

Mills called on a pastor, a rabbi and a member of Maine’s Wabanaki Tribe to offer blessings and invocations before she was sworn in, but also asked friend and former Maine Poet Laureate Wes McNair to read a poem. At the end of the night, she had a Catholic priest offer the benediction. And in a more celebratory tone, she called on the Franklin County Fiddlers and the Portland String Quartet to perform musical offerings. A rendition of Alicia Keys’ “Girl on Fire,” sung by Shy Paca, 11, and Natalia Mbadu, 10, brought the audience to its feet, cheering.


Senate President Troy Jackson of Allagash and House Speaker Sara Gideon of Freeport presided over the inaugural ceremonies.

“Tonight marks a historic moment in Maine’s history,” Gideon said earlier Wednesday. “After spending her entire career fighting for Maine families and defending working people, our new governor will be exactly the champion that Maine deserves.”

Senate Republican leaders said they were looking forward to seeing Mills’ first budget, due to the Legislature in February.

“Everything she talked about costs money, we all know that,” said Sen. Jeff Timberlake, R-Turner, the Senate’s assistant minority leader. But Timberlake also thanked Mills for a “bold vision” and said he looked forward to working with her.

Senate Minority Leader Dana Dow, R-Waldoboro, said he believed the focus should be on keeping people in Maine, and that Republicans would work to protect business interests, especially small businesses.

“We need to open the floodgates up, take the handcuffs off and let businesses do what they are capable of,” Dow said. “We should stop talking about coming home to Maine, but right now we have to because so many people have left. We need to concentrate on keeping our people here.”

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 791-6330 or at:

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