Governor Mills’ Address Highlights Coming Changes

Janet Mills takes the oath of office in Augusta on January 2nd, becoming the 75th Governor of Maine. (Submitted photo)

By Lura Jackson

“Streams, like the people of Maine, change direction on occasion to find the best way forward,” said Governor Janet Mills as she gave her inaugural address on Wednesday, January 2nd in Augusta. The insightful comment was among many Mills delivered during the address which outlined the changes the Mills’ administration is aiming to make in the state over the next four years.

Among the largest priorities Mills identified is that of the environment. Describing the connection between the people and the land in the state as “endangered,” Mills referenced 80 years of studies warning about the rising dangers of carbon emissions. She noted how the Gulf of Maine is warming “faster than almost any other saltwater body in the world,” affecting the approximately $600 million-a-year fishing industries, and how the coastal waters are becoming increasingly acidic. Rising acidity, studies have found, challenges the ability for shellfish to make their shells as well as inducing a slower growth rate.

Outside of the ocean, the warming climate has contributed to a rise in the number of ticks across the state, Mills said.

To resolve the situation, Mills stated that the new administration “will embrace clean energy, change our modes of transportation, weatherize homes and businesses, and reach a goal of 50 percent of our electricity coming from Maine renewable resources.” The changes will be widespread and continuous, including the installation of solar panels at the Blaine House in Augusta within the next few weeks.

The issue of Medicaid expansion – a situation that Maine voters repeatedly supported but which the previous governor vetoed – was also addressed. “Healthcare is for everyone, not just the well-to-do,” Mills said, describing the story of a close friend that died from breast cancer when she could not get adequate treatment. More than just speaking to the problem, though, Mills immediately demonstrated her willingness to act on it by making the Medicaid expansion a reality with the signing of her first Executive Order.

Along with providing better access to healthcare for those most in need, Mills’ administration is taking a human-centric approach to the opioid epidemic. “History will note that we have abandoned an entire generation of people to this preventable disease,” she said, impressing that those who succumb to addiction are not criminals but hurting individuals. “The allure of opiates can fill a hole in the human heart caused by loneliness, stress, and hopelessness.” With an aim of alleviating these situations and ensuring that those experiencing addiction and their families have a better chance of surviving, Mills is aiming to make the overdose drug Narcan “widely available” to expand medication-assisted treatment and to grow the number of recovery coaches in each area. A new position, Director of Opiate Response, will be created to manage the state’s coordination of opiate relief efforts.

Noting that society is rapidly changing – “someday, robots, drones, driverless cars, broadband, and 3-D printing will radically alter the way Maine people live, learn, and work” – Mills is creating a new state office to help prepare the state and its people for coming changes. The new office, the Office of Innovation and the Future, will “dive into major policy challenges, foster collaboration and propose concrete, workable solutions,” Mills said.

 

Recognizing that there are many political divisions in the state and the country, Mills referred to the diversity not as a challenge but a strength: “Our diversity is a virtue – one that we should harness to advance good public debate and good public policy… We are strengthened by our connections. We are one Maine, undivided, one family from Calais to Bethel, from York to Fort Kent.”