AUGUSTA — For eight years, a Republican governor viewed by critics as a blabbermouth and bully systematically shifted the course of state government to the right with a take-no-prisoner style.

Maine’s new governor is wasting no time in trying to undo the most visible signs of his legacy.

In her first month, Democrat Janet Mills has rolled out voter-approved Medicaid expansion that former Gov. Paul LePage blocked, attended the Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration hosted by an NAACP chapter LePage once told to “kiss my butt” and replaced his “Open for Business” sign on Interstate 95 with a “Maine Welcome Home” sign. She’s even installing solar panels – something LePage loathed – on the governor’s mansion.

LePage, a businessman-turned-governor who called himself “Donald Trump before Donald Trump became popular,” won by railing against special interests, smooth-talking politicians and welfare dependence. But Republican losses in November have roiled the party, as Democrats enjoying surplus revenues consider Mills’ $8 billion, two-year budget proposal.

For many, Mills’ style is an overdue breath of fresh air.

“The general sense in the state is that people are breathing a sigh of relief that you don’t have to worry about what the governor is going to say next,” said Colby College government professor Sandy Maisel, a Democrat. “We might not agree with everything that was said, but at least she’s not embarrassing us.”

Mills is one of seven Democrats taking over for Republican governors this year following gains in 2018 races.

She joins others taking sweeping steps to reverse the course laid out by Republicans, who are down from 33 governor seats to 27.

In Illinois, new Gov. J.B. Pritzker has backed gun-dealer licensing and minimum wage legislation vetoed by former Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, while swiftly restoring state government pay increases that Rauner froze.

In New Mexico, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham rescinded a school performance ratings system launched by her Republican predecessor, and signed 42 bills that mirror legislation vetoed by former Gov. Susana Martinez.

In Maine, Mills has vowed to not only undo LePage-era policies, but also calm the social and political waters stirred up by LePage’s invectives against “liberal elites,” opponents, black and Hispanic drug dealers and asylum seekers.

Retired state worker Henry Brunell of Hallowell said it was “uncomfortable” to see Maine repeatedly in the national spotlight over LePage’s off-color rants: from his concern that out-of-state drug dealers were impregnating “young white” girls, to a profane voicemail he left for a Democratic opponent and his remark that another Democrat was the first “to give it to the people without providing Vaseline.”

“He sounded like he wanted to work for Trump,” Brunell said.

Mills, who ran as a “pragmatic and collaborative” Democrat, won in November with more votes than any governor in Maine history. Supporters who say LePage’s outbursts relentlessly embarrassed the largely rural state of 1.3 million praised Mills’ steps on voter-approved Medicaid expansion and the opioid crisis, and say her shift to civility and respect is welcome.

Mills has made clear she wants to make her own mark by moving quickly to reverse Republican initiatives.

Martin Jones, a retired analyst and investment manager in Freeport, praised LePage’s steadying of Maine’s once-dire finances. But he said LePage could come across as “uncaring and abrasive,” and fought with lawmakers more than he needed.


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