Maine State Senator Peter Mills

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Mills' Candidacy Presents Golden Opportunity
by Representative Stephen Bowen | Bangor Daily News | June 8, 2006

As the recent legislative session came to a close, those of us serving on the Appropriations Committee found ourselves deciding how to deal with the last half-million or so of taxpayer dollars that had yet to be budgeted. With a deadline approaching, it appeared as though the money would be divided into little sums to be spread around various accounts to meet as many needs, at least minimally, as we could.

I found myself wondering, though, whether we ought to pool those dollars and find some single but especially effective thing so do with the money instead. Was there some way we could use a few hundred thousand dollars, not much by state budget standards, in some way that would actually make a meaningful difference?

Drawing a blank, I then wondered who I could find in State House who would have some ideas, and the first name that came to me was Peter Mills, state senator from Cornville and gubernatorial candidate. If anyone in the building would know how to get the most bang for the taxpayer buck, I thought, it would be Mills, and if he didn't know off the top of his head, from the encyclopedic knowledge of state government he had amassed in a dozen years of legislative service, he would reach into his ever-present overstuffed briefcase and find the answer among the various papers he always has shoved in there.

Mills, and probably only Mills, would know how make the most inventive, outside-the-box use of the resources we had. Why him? Because he simply thinks differently than anyone else I know.

I first became acquainted with the unique mind of Peter Mills during my "freshman orientation", the training session first-year legislators are given before beginning their terms. It was Mills who gave the wide-eyed group of us a history of the legislature, from the drafting of the state's Constitution to Joshua Chamberlain's showdown with an angry mob on the State House steps, to the modern era, all delivered in his usual concise and entertaining style and done extemporaneously, without a single note in front of him.

I had been impressed.

I thought of Mills again this weekend as I worked, under orders from my wife, to clean up and consolidate my various stacks of legislative paperwork. In a folder on taxes I found a five-page guide to tax reform options that Mills had authored, which included a history of the state's various sources of revenue. In a file on education funding, I found another handout written by Mills that explained, in the span of four neatly typed pages, the state's dizzyingly complex school funding formula, one of the most complicated things in state government. In a folder on bonds, I found Mills' masterwork from this past session, a detailed catalog of the state's outstanding financial obligations, including current balances for all.

It isn't simply Mills' ability to make complex things simple that has always impressed me, but rather his ability to possess both a "wonkish" expertise on the minutia of state government as well as an ability to take a big-picture view, to understand the larger, long-term implications of state policy. Many people are good at one or the other way of thinking. Few can do both as well as Peter Mills.

It was Mills, after all, who first opened the Legislature's eyes not only to the sum total of state's future fiscal burdens, but to the enduring effect on future generations of the Baldacci administration's penchant for making them worse. It was Mills, understanding before the rest of us the recklessness of the governor's $450 million lottery borrowing scheme, who led the people's veto effort that brought about its repeal.

Imagine, therefore, such a mind in the Governor's Office. A mind that both knows how every minute facet of state government works and knows in what direction each of those disparate parts working together is taking Maine and its people. Imagine having someone who is prepared on day one not just with a list of reforms, but also with the ability to comprehend the long-term effects of those reforms and knowledge of which levers of government to move to make those reforms happen.

Imagine for once having the smartest guy in the room be the guy in charge.

Republicans are blessed this primary election season by having three outstanding gubernatorial candidates in Mills, former Congressman David Emery and state Sen. Chandler Woodcock. Having worked with all three, I know firsthand that they all fully understand the challenges ahead for Maine and all bring broad experience and much-needed expertise with them. Any of the three would be a far better governor than the one under whose poor leadership Maine suffers today.

An opportunity presents itself before Republicans next Tuesday, however, an opportunity I never got that day in Appropriations.

I was not able to find Mills that afternoon. The Senate had adjourned earlier and he was no doubt out campaigning with his customary tirelessness. I wonder now whether he might have found what I was looking for, a way to shift some gear somewhere in the machinery of state government and make something meaningful and lasting happen. I suspect he might have, but the opportunity to find out was lost.

As Republicans head to the polls next week, they have an opportunity to give Maine voters the chance to see what the mind of Peter Mills could do for all of us if he is elected governor this fall. That is an opportunity we can seize by voting for him as the Republican nominee for governor on Tuesday, an opportunity I don't think we can afford to miss.

Republican Stephen Bowen represents Camden and Rockport in the Maine House of Representatives.