Maine State Senator Peter Mills

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Gubernatiorial Profile: Peter Mills By Victoria Wallack
State House News Service | | May 31, 2006

Peter Mills has been described as brainy, moderate and detail oriented – labels he doesn’t deny, exactly.

“I’m not that smart,” he said, adding, “I think I’m trainable.”

Getting serious, he says Republicans can only win statewide office in Maine if they are moderate, referring to the state’s two current U.S. senators and former Sen. Bill Cohen.

“Do you want to win or do you just want to screw around?” he rhetorically asks his critics, who say he’s too liberal to make it through the Republican primary on June 13.

The six-term legislator has gotten in trouble with conservatives for saying last year he would broaden the sales tax to pay for an income-tax reduction – a position he now says he would consider only after getting spending under control – and for his support of abortion and protecting gays against discrimination.

He is against the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, but for a constitutional amendment requiring a two-thirds vote in the Legislature on tax and spending increases.

“My ideas don’t fit well into 10-second sound bites,” said Mills, age 62, because issues are more complicated than that.

“I think I have the ability to relate to and attract capable managers – to work and take leadership roles in state government,” he said, and promised to set up systems so people could tell whether programs were working or not.

“I’d start out establishing management systems for the delivery of public services that will be performance management systems,” he said, “so all can see where programs are succeeding or failing.”

Asked how his hands-on style would work in running state government, Mills said he learned to delegate as an officer on a Navy ship. There are times, however, “where you can’t succeed by delegating.”

He used his own campaign as an example.

“I have a whole policy on my campaign signs,” he said, outlining for volunteers how to put the signs in the ground so they don’t flap in the wind and positioning them away from others at popular intersections.

“Is that overly hands-on? Yes. But, my signs look good,” he said.


Asked about one of the key issues in the campaign – affordable health insurance – Mills said there are no easy solutions, referring to the notion that just letting the free market take over won’t solve everything.

He would relax some restrictions on insurance carriers in the state, but said there needs to be a safety net for those who can’t afford insurance.

“The state has to run a safety valve system of some kind,” he said, including a high-risk pool and possibly a Dirigo-type program that would give people vouchers to help purchase insurance.

On the environment, he said the biggest issue is sustainable energy and energy conservation, through support of mass transit like buses and trains; alternative energy; and incentives for people to conserve.

“I don’t see the environmental community weighing in on it,” he said, at least not with the passion it deserves. Instead, he said, they are distracted with things like access to the Allagash River.

On spending, he supports a requirement that budgets in the Legislature get passed with a two-thirds vote, but is against the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, which would limit spending at all levels of government and require a ballot vote on any tax or fee increase.

“It’s a meat axe approach,” he said.


Mills was born in Farmington, went to high school in Gorham and now lives in Cornville in Somerset County with his wife, Nancy, Mills, a superior court judge, who because of her position can’t campaign for him. The couple has three children.

He went to Harvard for his undergraduate degree, then to the Navy for five years, with tours of duty in Vietnam. After the Navy, which awarded him the Navy Achievement Medal, he went to the University of Maine School of Law and still practices at a firm he owns in Skowhegan.

Politics and government service run in the family’s blood.

Mills’ father was in the Legislature and served as the state’s federal prosecutor for 16 years. His sister, Janet Mills, is a Democratic representative from Farmington, and his other sister, Dora Mills, runs the state department of public health.

“It’s a little nerve-racking on occasion to wake up and read the morning paper,” given his family’s public jobs, he said, adding he takes a “certain pride in my wife and in my sisters.”

His favorite presidents are Teddy Roosevelt, Abe Lincoln and John Adams.

His favorite musician, or one of them, is Stevie Ray Vaughan. He grew up to the music of Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. “I tried to play the guitar like them and failed,” he said.

The seemingly frenetic Mills said he likes to run to relax, particularly with his two dogs in the woods. And he cuts his own firewood. “It’s fun to get out there and exhaust yourself,” he said.