The start of the three-day National Governors Association conference kicked off in Portland Wednesday with dinner on the waterfront and an abortion-rights protest across the street.

Dinner at Boone’s Fish House and Oyster Room, located on Custom House Wharf above the Port Hole Restaurant and Bar, was by invitation only and the public, including the protesters and members of the media, were not allowed entry to Boone’s parking lot.

While the governors were welcomed into the private event, a group of reproductive rights protesters began to gather near the city’s Custom House, displaying a large banner that read, “No Civility for Christian Fascists.”

A short while later a boisterous crowd of more than 50 abortion-rights supporters – women and men – marched along the Commercial Street sidewalk. They were accompanied by musicians playing a wide variety of instruments and carrying signs that said, “Abortion is a civil right, and hands off my body.”

Portland police had shut down Commercial Street between Pearl and Franklin streets to through traffic for the dinner, which lasted about two hours. Several security teams, assigned to protect governors, were present.

Despite the street closure, vehicle traffic seemed to be moving smoothly through the Old Port with no traffic jams or major delays.


Conditions could change when Portland police close Spring Street to through-traffic from 5 a.m. Thursday until 3 p.m. Friday. In addition, Oak Street between Free and Spring streets will be closed during the same time frame. The Spring Street parking garage will be accessible from the Center Street side, and Holiday Inn by the Bay employees and guests will be allowed access.

Most of the NGA conferences and meetings will be held Thursday and Friday at the Holiday Inn by the Bay.

Maine Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat, and Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, were both spotted at Wednesday’s event on Commercial Street. Hutchinson is the NGA’s chairman.

The section of Commercial Street in front of Custom House Wharf was packed with pedestrians Wednesday evening, most of them tourists, who seemed to have no idea what was going on. One middle-aged man, who nodded toward several black SUVs, asked if former President George W. Bush was in town. The Bush family’s compound is located in Kennebunkport.

Mills attended the dinner, but was whisked away in a black, GMC Yukon Denali by security and did not pause to comment.

Also spotted leaving Boone’s was Hutchinson. His photo was included in a poster that was nailed to a utility pole just outside Boone’s parking lot. The poster said, “A vocal opponent of abortion and the right to choose.”


Many of the governors appeared to be staying at the Westin Portland Harborview Hotel, adjacent to Congress Square Park on High Street.  The hotel entrance was guarded by Portland police officers, Maine State Police and private security details.

Around 5 p.m. a long line of large SUVs, most of them black in color and either Cadillac Escalades or GMC Denalis, parked in front of the hotel waiting to transport the governors to Boone’s.

At one point, the abortion-rights protesters blocked the entrance to Boone’s parking lot. Police officers directed them to protest across the street. They complied and the demonstration ended peacefully a few minutes later. But emotions over the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade were still running high. One male protester yelled, “Get these fascist governors out of Maine.”

Abortion-rights protesters stand across the street from police outside of Boone’s Fish House and Oyster Room, where participants in the National Governors Association conference were dining Wednesday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Further down the street from Boone’s, protesters hung a giant banner in front of the Casco Bay ferry terminal that said, “(expletive) DeSantis.” Ron DeSantis, Florida’s Republican governor, was not expected to attend the NGA conference. After the court’s decision, DeSantis announced he intended to expand “pro-life protections.”

Governors from a total of 55 states and territories have been invited to attend the conference to talk about computer science education, cybersecurity, economic recovery, infrastructure and youth mental health care. The governors’ summer meeting is one of two conventions held each year. This will be the first time the governors have gathered in person since 2019.

The NGA conference – last held in Maine in 1983 – typically draws businesspeople, state and federal officials, and other attendees. An NGA spokesperson declined to say how many or which governors were attending the conference.

But the presence of at least two governors was confirmed by the Press Herald. Nearly all the governors were surrounded by security details. Among them were Democrats John Carney of Delaware and Ned Lamont of Connecticut.

DeSantis was not seen at the event nor were other prominent governors such as Democrat Gavin Newsom of California, Republican Brian Kemp of Georgia, Democrat Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan and Republican Larry Hogan of Maryland.

Educational sessions will get underway Thursday morning at the Holiday Inn by the Bay on Spring Street before the governors leave the city and head across the Fore River for a lobster bake at Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeth. The town said in a post on its website that the popular oceanfront park will close at 1 p.m. that day for the private event.

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