Maine State Senator Peter Mills

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Mills family divides political, family loyalties

By Glenn Adams, Associated Press Writer | December 10, 2005

AUGUSTA, Maine --One of his sisters is a Democratic state representative. Another is the state's health director with a background in Democratic politics. His mother was a longtime Democrat. And Peter Mills is trying to win the Republican nomination for governor.

Does family loyalty win out over political loyalty? Democratic state Rep. Janet Mills says she hears the question all of the time.

"I say to anybody who asks, I'm for my brother," said Mills, D-Farmington, a former district attorney who shares a law office with Peter.

But she stops short of letting her blood ties turn her into a political turncoat. "If he's not the nominee, I'm supporting John Baldacci," the Democratic governor who's seeking a second term, Mills said.

Peter Mills -- formally Sumner Peter Mills III -- faces three opponents for the GOP nomination: fellow Sen. Chandler Woodcock of Farmington, political consultant and former congressman David Emery of St. George, and the lesser-known Stephen Stimpson of Bangor.

Acknowledging his family's political accommodations on his behalf, Mills remains focused on the business at hand: broadening his recognition outside of Somerset County and completing his eligibility requirements to receive public campaign financing.

A moderate, Mills said state debt and aging infrastructure are among his chief concerns.

"I think the state is in a lot worse trouble than most politicians are willing to talk about," he said.

Mills, who's serving his fifth Senate term and sixth in the Legislature, comes from a family with a storied history in Maine politics, mostly on the Republican side of the fence.

Grandfather Sumner Peter Mills of Stonington served in the state House in 1903-04, followed by four years as senator from Hancock County.

The next in line, S. Peter Mills Jr., served five legislative terms between 1939 and '70. His House and Senate terms were punctuated by World War II military service, a municipal court judgeship and service as U.S. attorney for Maine.

But even S. Peter was known to put his GOP loyalties aside when it came to supporting a family member politically. Janet said he temporarily dropped his Republican registration 11 years ago when she ran in a crowded Democratic 2nd District congressional primary so he could vote for her. Baldacci won the 1994 primary and general election.

Dr. Dora Anne Mills, the state health director, broke into Maine's political scene in 1996 as a member of the Democratic National Committee. But in her role as the state's top health official under independent Gov. Angus King and now Democratic Gov. Baldacci, she has kept politics at an arm's length.

"I've been involved in this job for nine and a half years and never got involved with any candidate politically," said Mills. That includes brother Peter and sister Janet, she noted.

Brother Paul, a Republican-registered attorney who like Peter attended Harvard University and the University of Maine School of Law, actively supports Peter, gathering signatures and donations for Clean Election funding, and driving him to political functions.

"I'm a Republican, but not a particularly partisan one," said Paul.

Brother David, while not active politically himself, is also glad to help out.

Peter Mills' wife, Nancy, is a Superior Court justice and stays clear of politics. Her cars don't bear campaign bumper stickers, said Peter, who got off the Judiciary Committee to distance himself from bench appointments.

That leaves Peter's 88-year-old mother, Kay Mills.

A northern Maine native, she started off as a Republican because "everybody was (one) in Aroostook County when I was growing up." But later on, Kay Mills registered as a Democrat, which she remained for years.

Now she has switched back to the GOP fold so she can support her son. Asked if she will actively volunteer, she said, "I will if called upon."

Mills family political loyalties have not always been by the book.

With her family well-connected in Republican circles during the '60s, Dora recalls staying at the home outside of Washington of then-Sen. Margaret Chase Smith of Maine, the first woman whose name was ever placed in nomination for president. Today, Democrat Janet Mills serves on the board of the Margaret Chase Smith Foundation.

Peter, by contrast, became a member of the board of visitors of the Edmund S. Muskie School of Public Service at the University of Southern Maine in 2003. Muskie, a founding force of Maine's modern Democratic Party, sought his party's presidential nomination in 1972 when he was a senator, and was Hubert Humphrey's White House running-mate four years earlier.

With two terms each on the Taxation and Appropriations committees, Mills is respected in the State House for his expertise on finer points of tax and budget issues.

He is concerned about an unfunded liability to the state pension system. And he said modernizing and replacing aging public structures, such as bridges and schools, are also major challenges that remain largely hidden.

Mills, 62, is a Farmington native and graduated from Harvard in 1965 before serving in the Navy for five years during the Vietnam War. He was awarded the Navy Commendation Medal for intelligence operations he conducted against the Soviets.

After the service, Mills graduated second in his class from the UMaine law school in 1973. Mills and his wife have three grown children and two grandchildren.

The other Mills offspring remember the eldest of their clan as the big brother who set the pace for academic and career achievement.

His mother recalls fondly when, as a seventh-grader, he saved her an expensive repair bill by taking apart a broken family washing machine and fixing it himself.

"If anybody can fix it, he can, whether it's a washing machine or state problems," Kay Mills said.


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