By Tom Lamia
It is cold in South Bristol, Maine. Of course, it is midwinter and this land lies east and north of all but Alaska among our states. There is snow on the ground and ice on the ponds and roads. One might say the landscape is bleak and the seascape forbidding, but not I. I say the worm, though frozen, has turned.
Maine has a new governor, a woman and the first of her kind in this state. Last year I wrote about a remarkable Maine woman, Frances Perkins, whose conditions for accepting FDR’s invitation to become labor secretary became the blueprint for the New Deal. Perkins is buried nearby in Newcastle in a small cemetery adjacent to the family’s 17th century brickyard on the Damariscotta River. Maine women of note include Senators Margaret Chase Smith, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins. Janet Mills, the retiring attorney general and the new governor, will be added to this distinguished list.
The preceding paragraph appears in this “Winter Thoughts” essay for a hopeful reason: As it is often darkest before the dawn, so may it be coldest before spring brings new life to Maine. The former Governor, Paul
LePage, about whom I wrote last year, brought a tough, often surly attitude to Maine’s government, calling himself “Trump before Trump” and showing little compassion for those who have trouble making it in the struggle for a comfortable life. Unlike Trump, however, LePage could legitimately claim to have had his attitudes formed by his own struggles to survive and prosper.
LePage served two four-year terms and never reconciled his views with those of his political enemies. He started his administration by ordering the removal of a New Deal era frieze depicting Frances Perkins and others from the Maine Department of Labor building, saying its message, being pro-labor, was antithetical to Maine’s new pro-business policies. Throughout his governorship he fought in the courts to sustain his controversial policies. After the voters of Maine approved Medicaid expansion, LePage went to court to prevent it. He and Mills, his attorney general, regularly presented their differing views on constitutionality to the courts. Now that is done.
Mills is the other side of the LePage coin, a bright-eyed and sparkling person of energy, wit and accomplishment. Like LePage, she is an unalloyed product of Maine. If life has been hard on her (as it surely has been), she does not show any scars. She is a talker and a laugher, proud of her rural heritage and eager to get to work on her new duties and to turn that work into a new day for Maine.
The Mills administration will test my theory of government (shared by a majority of humanity) that a smile, a wave and an embrace of those who need encouragement is the first step to forming and executing policies that make us do better and feel good about it.
These thoughts are among my Winter Thoughts in large part because I see a populace, here in Maine and throughout our country, eager to turn the corner from the cold and bleak of winter, mean-spiritedness and government by dictatorial fiat to a new season in which elected representatives and their appointed officials work to make lives better, with smiles on their faces and the people’s interest in their hearts. Oh, yes, and with efficiency and without corruption. This is what I expect of our new governor’s administration.