Would Mary Mayhew make a good governor?
Republican Mayhew, who recently resigned after six years as commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services so she could announce her gubernatorial ambitions, has an interesting resume. She’s been an active Democrat, directing a 1990 congressional campaign, working for Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton and serving as a congressional aide. She’s also lobbied for the Maine Hospital Association, which strongly supports Medicaid expansion, the exact opposite of Mayhew’s current platform. Now, she’s positioning herself as heir apparent to GOP Gov. Paul LePage.
That’s not what makes her a crappy choice for governor. Mayhew’s unfitness has less to do with issues (although her stands sometimes seem to be driven by political expediency rather than conviction) and more to do with her stunning talent for incompetent management.
To be fair, DHHS was a disaster long before she arrived. Previous administrations created an enormous bureaucracy that burned taxpayer dollars without doing much to help people in need. So give Mayhew a pass on her first three years in charge.
But by 2015, an adept commissioner should have cleaned out the deadwood and realigned priorities. Mayhew claimed she did, introducing the first DHHS budget in years without a massive shortfall. She credited that to reduced Medicaid spending, but that wasn’t the whole story. She also axed 11 percent of the workforce at the Center for Disease Control, cut $20 million from anti-smoking programs, slashed Drugs for the Elderly, General Assistance, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and food stamps.
Some of those cuts made no sense. For instance, half the disease-control positions were federally funded, so the reductions didn’t save the state anything.
Later that year, DHHS missed a deadline to appeal the loss of Medicaid payments for patients at Riverview Psychiatric Hospital, decertified by the feds in 2013 for numerous serious violations. Mayhew brushed that off as “technicalities.”
Washington then cited DHHS for failing to recover $4.4 million in Medicaid overpayments to nursing homes. Meanwhile, Mayhew told a legislative committee investigating the lack of progress in bringing Riverview into compliance that the fault was the Legislature’s for failing to appropriate enough money.
To begin 2016, the feds threatened DHHS with $29 million in penalties for substandard welfare programs. Mayhew blamed – who else – the Legislature for not anteing up more cash. The Lewiston Sun Journal revealed that Mayhew’s minions had failed to implement required new standards for lead poisoning. The Portland Press Herald discovered the department hadn’t done squat to start up drug-treatment programs approved a year before. The Bangor Daily News reported that DHHS had cut public-health nursing positions by 50 percent and abruptly ended a federally funded program to provide services to teens with mental illness, leaving $3 million on the table. Also from the BDN: The department had transferred $7.8 million in federal grants to ineligible programs. Mayhew denied that, but eventually reversed the money shifts, although not before improper spending reached $13.4 million.
Mayhew was quoted by the Bangor paper as saying the problems at Riverview were “less than sensational,” but in August, she and LePage announced plans to build a $5-million facility next door to house patients found incompetent to stand trial. But they wouldn’t say where the money was coming from.
The Press Herald found Maine’s child-poverty rate was increasing, but DHHS was refusing to spend $155 million in TANF funds. Mayhew was unconcerned. “There were higher poverty rates for children when all this money was simply going out in the form of a cash benefit to used in strip clubs, to be used in gambling facilities, to be used to bail someone out of jail,” she said.
The Maine Sunday Telegram discovered the wait list for adults with intellectual disabilities had grown from 111 in 2008 to 1,200. Mayhew called that comparison “uniformed, misleading and beyond biased.”
Now it’s 2017. Mayhew has already forfeited $1.4 million in federal money by insisting on photo IDs on eligibility cards for nutrition programs. And just this month, the feds announced the state would have to return $51 million in improper Medicaid payments to operate Riverview, money DHHS was repeatedly warned not to spend.
There’s more. But it won’t fit.