In The News
S. Peter Mills -- Republican primary candidate profile
Bangor Daily News | June 3, 2006
AUGUSTA - A little more than a year ago, Gov. John E. Baldacci and his majority Democrats in the Maine Legislature were forced to abandon a highly controversial plan to balance the state budget with a loan of more than $400 million leveraged by $250 million in future state lottery revenues.
While Democrats were able to muster enough support for a majority budget at the State House, they completely underestimated the persuasive talents of a Republican country lawyer from Cornville who has racked up 12 years in the Maine Legislature over his political career. The governor refused to agree to a bipartisan alternative to the borrowing plan advanced by Sen. Peter Mills, and that rejection has been instrumental in convincing Mills to seek the GOP nomination for governor on June 13.
"The governor and the majority were hellbent to borrow $447 million by selling off the lottery proceeds and giving up $46 million for 14 years, leaving a bill that we would then let our children pay," Mills said, referring to projected annual lottery revenue that would have been lost. "I suggested a temporary surcharge on the sales tax for the duration of the session so that we didn't have to borrow the money. Baldacci refused to consider what many of us thought was a decent compromise."
Mills' reaction to Baldacci was to take out a petition for a people's veto of the borrowing provision in the budget and then lead the effort to repeal it. Mainers began to get jittery over the Democratic plan, particularly after Wall Street investors downgraded the state's bond rating. The governor and the Democrats had to throw in the towel and develop a different solution.
"It angered the Democrats, but they had to eat crow and admit that they were wrong," Mills said. "I got 600 signatures personally from people who knew it was wrong."
Often perceived as the most liberal of the three Republicans vying for their party's gubernatorial nomination, Mills, 62, has stuck it to both parties during the last two years. Last October, his refusal to reconsider his GOP bid for governor was perceived by many Republican insiders as the pivotal factor in Peter Cianchette's decision to withdraw from the race. Cianchette, of South Portland, had been viewed as the Republican frontrunner to oppose the governor after running against him in 2002.
Cianchette's withdrawal seemed to trigger a chain of events that led to other resignations at Maine Republican Party headquarters and a reshuffling of the GOP deck in the state.
"It would have happened anyway," Mills said. "The party hierarchy was a house of cards. I think it was apparent to everyone that I was going to do a vigorous job of campaigning and that we would have defeated Cianchette."
Endorsing a temporary increase in the sales tax, advocating abortion rights as defined by the U.S. Supreme Court, and supporting protections for gay men and lesbians under the state's Human Rights Act are all positions that place Mills in the "lefty" or "RINO" (Republicans in name only) column for some members of the state's GOP. But Mills has been around long enough to avoid staking out positions that are out of the mainstream for Maine voters. He is constantly aware that the majority of all registered voters in the state belong to no political party.
"I'm a pragmatist and a lot more so than many people around here are," he said. "I like to see things work well and my track record is one of reaching out to independents and Democrats and getting things done."
Mills is a member of a prominent Maine political family which includes a father who was a former U.S. attorney; a sister, Janet Mills, who serves as a Democratic state representative and former county prosecutor; and another sister, Dr. Dora Anne Mills, who serves as the state's health director. A naval intelligence officer during the Vietnam War, he went on to form his own law practice in Skowhegan and is married to Superior Court Justice Nancy Mills.
Armed with a 12-point plan to bring state spending under control, decrease volatility in the state's tax structure, reduce state debt, create jobs, and jump-start the state's economy, Mills has been on the road since last fall meeting with hundreds of Republicans in very small venues long before he qualified for his publicly funded campaign.
"I've traveled 50,000 to 60,000 miles and been to at least 300 events, meeting with groups of 20 to 60 people," he said. "I've also benefited from a lot of word of mouth. I think people are growing ever more conscious of the primary and are watching the debates."
Mills said if he could just get the attention of those who watch the televised debates, he would get their votes.
"I've spent almost 10 months doing what I planned to do," he said. "As governor, I plan to make sure everything is buckled down and that we have decent management practices to deliver public services. After I've accomplished that, everything else will fall into place."