Capitol Notebook: Mills will bring the experience needed in Augusta

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In this upside-down political age, Republicans have argued that experience in government is a bad thing. In the current campaign for governor, Republican television ads against Democratic candidate Janet Mills deride her 40 years in politics. Brent Littlefield, a Republican operative, chastised her on the radio for attending the Democratic National Convention in 1980. They’re implicitly attacking her age, as well as the need for experience.

But Maine voters need to choose Mills, locked in a tight race with a novice businessman, Shawn Moody, as our next governor. Mills has served with distinction at various levels of government, including district attorney, the Legislature and attorney general. Moody, the Republican candidate, was brought into the race by Gov. Paul LePage’s team, which is running his campaign. They seek to make a virtue out of his lack of experience.

The contest between him and Mills turns on what are life and death issues for many Mainers. These include whether Maine will accept a pile of federal money to expand Medicaid health insurance coverage to 70,000 people, including many who would be termed the working poor. Resistance to expanding Medicaid, even leading to a court battle, has been the hallmark of LePage’s tenure. And this expanded access to health coverage is key to stopping the death spiral of the opioid addiction crisis.

Moody grudgingly acknowledges that the Medicaid expansion, enacted by voters, is the law, but it needs to find steady funding. This was LePage’s exact position, but LePage made it impossible for the Legislature to pass exactly that kind of funding, and the issue remains in court. It seems like Moody might do the same.

A new governor will need the “lamp of experience” to solve the mess in Maine’s biggest state department, Health and Human Services. Its failures under LePage and Mary Mayhew have been a disaster in all areas, including children’s services, and we have seen the tragic deaths of two young children just in recent months. Longstanding problems at the Riverview Psychiatric Hospital, leading to a loss in accreditation, have only just begun to improve.

State government’s basic responsibility is taking care of those who truly cannot care for themselves. The basic functions of DHHS got lost in the LePage administration’s zeal to “reform welfare” and cut services. When you constantly want to cut the size of government and limit services, you don’t necessarily find the right answers to solving the DHHS problem. Managing a state government administration with a nearly $7 billion budget does not resemble growing a small business.

On many issues, Moody’s thinking has “evolved” so that his thoughts are now diametrically opposed to those he had just a few months ago. At a forum during the Republican primary, he said that humans were mostly not responsible for climate change, now he says that humans may play some kind of role. Go figure.

The present governor, signaling that Moody would follow his policies, has taken the bizarre step of issuing a two-year budget plan for the period after he leaves office, which is, in fact, the responsibility of the new governor. Lepage vowed to issue a fully developed budget after the November election and trample a moment that should belong to a new governor.

There are two independent candidates in the race, but there will be a high price to pay if voters indulge their frustrations with the two-party system by backing state treasurer Terry Hayes, a former Democrat, or Alan Caron. A recent poll puts them at 7.9 and 2.3 percent, respectively. Hayes is motivated apparently by her dislike of Democrats, who passed her over for House Speaker when she was in the Legislature. She probably won’t mind seeing Moody as governor. She called criticisms of the Republican “overblown” in a recent interview with the Portland Phoenix.

Hayes rightly attacks the partisan gridlock in the last Legislature, but it is a blame not equally shared. LePage’s nasty and aggressive tone, backed by House Republicans who sustained his vetoes, was chiefly responsible. Democrats responded in kind.

But our best and only hope to move beyond the toxic partisanship is the election of Mills, who will be an experienced governor who values effective government that serves the people of Maine.

Portland resident Marian McCue is the former editor and publisher of The Forecaster.

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