With her decisive victory on Tuesday, Gov. Janet Mills can now take her place as one of the three most successful vote-getters in Maine Democratic Party history, joining Ed Muskie and George Mitchell – not least in their cross-party appeal.

While in today’s fractured political climate it’s not possible to achieve the kind of margins Muskie and Mitchell did, Mills’s achievement in winning two successive elections with a majority is impressive.

Among the other results is the probably permanent political retirement of her main opponent, Paul LePage. She battled LePage for years as attorney general but had never faced him directly; it was no contest.

The question, as it always is for a candidate achieving decisive victory, is what Mills will do with the political capital she’s accumulated. And that, to a large extent, may depend on how she handles the delicate question of legislative relations, which during her first term were fraught – often with her own party.

To be clear, just a year after her inauguration, Mills was confronted with a world-changing crisis, the coronavirus pandemic, that upended all expectations. It forced elected chief executives everywhere to adapt.

Mills’s management of the crisis is undoubtedly one reason she won a second term; the contrast with her predecessor’s likely actions was stark. Yet during the pandemic, she developed management habits that, in effect, centralized power in her office.


When it came to spending the billions of dollars the federal government sent our way, Mills was the principal and often sole decision-maker. Relations with legislators suffered, as one annual session was abruptly shut down, and the next two were hamstrung by a lack of in-person meetings – in contrast with most other states, where lawmakers went back to work.

The 2023 session, the first fully normal one since 2019, will be the bellwether.

Mills will swear-in a subtly changed group of lawmakers. Democrats throughout the state did almost as well as Mills; they may even have increased their majorities in the Senate and House.

Senate President Troy Jackson will be back for a third and final term at the helm, but the House will likely be led by a speaker new to most people around the state – Rachel Talbot Ross, the first person of color to preside over either chamber.

Jackson will be joined by two black senators, the re-elected Craig Hickman from Kennebec County, and Jill Duson, chosen as one of Portland’s two senators for a first term. Two Somali women will join the House.

Half the Senate Democratic caucus will be women, and the House is not far behind.


In short, it’s the most diverse legislature Maine has ever seen, with a composition unimaginable when Mills first ran for office as a county prosecutor in 1980.

No one can predict with precision how any governor will lead over a four-year term – not even themselves. But if Mills is to have the successful second term that’s often eluded her predecessors, she will have to shift course to remain in tune with her party, and especially its younger members.

There were conflicts over electricity supply, and soon, Maine’s long quest for public power, but those will be fought out as referendums, and will not greatly affect the executive-legislative balance.

The areas where work needs to be done concerns criminal justice reform – and in Maine, as in most states, that involves racial justice – and the rights, and appropriate governance, of Maine’s Indian tribes.

As a former prosecutor, Mills sometimes took an unnecessarily hard line on attempts to reform the system. For example, though she’s now presiding over the phase-out of Long Creek, Maine’s only youth detention center, she hasn’t actually said that’s what she’s doing.

Instead, advocates of immediate closure – however difficult that would have proved – still have the impression the governor doesn’t care about their concerns.


The obvious legal disability of the tribes, unique among the 50 states, is that they need state approval, under the Land Claims Act, for any change in status – even the multifold benefits of numerous federal statutes enacted since 1980 that Maine has never allowed to take effect.

The governor’s position seems to be that tribal representatives must come calling, and discuss every single legal change, in private, with her staff – and the answer still usually seems to be no. A public process, with full legislative debate, is the obvious answer.

There are hundreds of other things a governor must do, but these legislative responsibilities would go far to humanize Mills’s stern image, and sometimes unyielding positions.

With no more political opponents to fight, this might be her best chance to surprise us all.

Douglas Rooks, a Maine editor, commentator and reporter since 1984, is the author of three books, and is now researching the life and career of a U.S. Chief Justice. He welcomes comment at [email protected]

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