Politics & Other Mistakes: The unlikable, but unsinkable, Janet Mills

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Only two things stand in the way of Janet Mills winning a second term as Maine’s governor:

1 — Janet.

2 — Mills.

Personality aside, there’s also the little problem of being a moderate Democrat at a time when moderation isn’t regarded as a virtue. But Mills would probably find it easier to get away with her centrist stands if she could bring herself to cloak them in a thick covering of warm and fuzzy.

Al DiamonSort of like Angus King, only without the mustache.

That’s not Mills’ style. In spite of her decades in politics, she’s never developed that telegenic flair that serves the state’s independent junior U.S. senator so well. And the idea of her schmoozing the voters is practically unimaginable.

The Mills approach is to be in charge. If the Democratic left wing doesn’t like it, well, they can just vote for her opponent, former Republican Gov. Paul LePage, the boondocks, beta version of Donald Trump. She knows the liberals can’t stomach that idea. Likewise, a lot of independents and even a bunch of old-school GOPers.

They may not like Mills, but when November rolls around, they’ll clench their sphincters and vote for her.

For a fine example of this phenomenon, one needs to look no further than the March meeting of the Democratic State Committee. On the agenda was an item calling for an endorsement of Mills’ reelection. Since she’s the only Dem candidate on the ballot, the vote was a foregone conclusion.

But there are a lot of activists on the state committee who aren’t happy with Mills’ veto of a bill to allow farm workers to unionize, her support for the Central Maine Power Co. corridor through western Maine, or – especially – her opposition to full sovereignty for Maine’s Native American tribes, collectively known as the Wabanaki.

In the Zoom meeting, member Matt Bear-Fowler’s screen showed a poster reading “Stand With Wabanaki.” Bear-Fowler got support in the group chat from several others, including Portland state Rep. Rachel Talbot Ross, who is the assistant House majority leader and likely the next speaker.

When Mills showed up to take questions from the group, Bear-Fowler pressed her on whether she’d sign a bill granting the tribes full sovereignty. Mills told him her answer couldn’t be boiled down to yes or no.

Rough translation: Pound sand.

That didn’t sit well with many of the 80 or so hardcore Democrats. Party Chairman Drew Gattine had originally proposed passing the endorsement by acclamation, essentially making it unanimous. But then, without explanation, Gattine decided to call for a recorded vote.

It was then that the dissidents were confronted with political reality. They might not like Mills’ sorta-kinda-maybe position on granting the tribes full rights. But the alternative is LePage, who’s flat-out opposed to the idea. Unionizing farmworkers? Sorry, LePage isn’t having any. The CMP corridor? LePage was for it long before Mills weighed in.

When the votes were tallied, only Bear-Fowler voted against the endorsement. Another dozen or so members appear to have abstained. But the overwhelming majority realized there weren’t any viable alternatives. They voted for Mills.

Whatever dissent, dissatisfaction, and disgruntlement got expressed at the meeting (which was not a public event), none of it made it into the official Twitter posting that proclaimed, “The Maine Democratic Party proudly endorses Governor Janet Mills campaign for a second term as Maine’s first female Governor.”

The state Republican Party has tried through a series of emailed news alerts to promote the idea that a significant number of Democrats are unhappy with Mills. Many of these overwrought releases have focused on the claim that the rank and file are opposed to Mills’ vaccine mandate for health-care workers and assorted masking requirements. Aside from a handful of anti-vaxxers and assorted kooks, there doesn’t seem to be much basis for this nonsense.

The GOP has to resort to semi-fictional issues because it can’t very well attack Mills for holding positions that are essentially the same as their nominee. And it can’t criticize her for being the more unlikable candidate for two reasons:

1 — Paul.

2 — LePage.

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