Commissioner Mike Michaud? An inside look at Janet Mills’ transition

5 years ago

Good morning from Augusta. Attorney General Janet Mills will take a major step in her transition to the governor’s office this week, when she begins interviewing candidates for more than a dozen Cabinet positions that her transition team says about 150 people have applied for.

The Democrat’s team has run a tight ship so far, but names of some who have applied or are under consideration for jobs are circulating in Augusta, including former U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, Secretary of State Matt Dunlapand Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook.

Their names — and others — haven’t been confirmed by Mills’ team and only represent a partial list of potential candidates. But here’s what we know about the Cabinet selection process so far.

Interviews will begin this week, and Mills may need to first look for a Department of Health and Human Services commissioner. Mills spokesman Scott Ogden declined to comment on the individuals named in this story, but he said on Friday that upward of 1,000 people have expressed an interest in working in the Mills administration and 150 of them want commissioner-level positions.

Ogden said those applications are coming in a variety of ways, including forwarding from stakeholder groups. He said interviews for Cabinet-level spots will begin this week with a goal of “naming as many commissioners as possible” before Mills takes office on Jan. 2.

It was this week in 2010 when then-Gov.-elect Paul LePage began naming nominees for commissioner positions, but he didn’t have every commissioner named by the time he took office. The Republican’s best-known Cabinet member, former DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew, was named late after LePage said publicly that he struggled to find candidates.

Mayhew’s tenure — during which she fought Medicaid expansion and made Maine a policy model for the administration of President Donald Trump, for whom she now runs Medicaid — may have made the position more attractive for Democrats who see it as a rebuilding project.

Sources said among the top DHHS candidates are Gattine and Kim Johnson, a former head of the Maine Office of Substance Abuse who went on to a similar role in the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration under former President Barack Obama.

Neither Gattine nor Johnson responded to requests for comment on Friday. Gattine is a former assistant attorney general who has been the top Democratic health policy voice in Augusta during the LePage administration. Commissioners must be confirmed by the Maine Senate after a hearing.

This position may have to be picked quickly, because sitting legislators are barred by the Maine Constitution from being selected for government positions and the new Legislature will be sworn in on Wednesday. Gattine could get around that by declining to be sworn in with his peers.

Two other big names have confirmed that they’re seeking spots, but there is likely stiff competition for most positions. Only Dunlap and outgoing state Sen. Tom Saviello, R-Wilton, confirmed that they are being considered for commissioner positions under Mills — Dunlap for the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and Saviello for the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry. Alongside Dunlap, Mills is said to be considering Judy Camuso, the wildlife director for the department. She didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Dunlap said the possibility has “been discussed,” but he’s running for re-election as secretary of state and it’s not “entirely clear” that he’s the first choice for IFW. Chandler Woodcock, LePage’s commissioner, could also stay on in a mostly non-political department.

Michaud, who lost to LePage in 2014 and went on to lead veteran employment efforts for Obama, could be under consideration to lead the Maine Department of Labor. In a text message, he said a reporter was “probably hearing a lot of names for different positions” like “I have been hearing,” but deferred to Mills’ team for comment on who is being considered.

Reading list

— A poor showing by New England Republicans in last month’s elections did not seem to faze the GOP’s only remaining member of the region’s congressional delegation. Maine U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, who has yet to announce whether she will seek a fifth term in 2020, said her more moderate approach to politics has established bonds with voters that transcend partisan rancor. “Groups on the far left and far right demand 100 percent of compliance 100 percent of the time,” Collins said in an interview with the BDN. “They’re never going to have that from me.” Collins’ vote for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh likely solidified her position among Republicans, but it gave a rallying cry to Democrats, who have struggled to find viable candidates to challenge Collins.

— A Bangor jail guard allegedly sent obscene photos to fellow staff and other women for years. Cpl. Steven Buzzell, 39, allegedly made sexual advances, sent explicit photos, and in one alleged case, sexually touched an inmate while working as a corrections officer at the Penobscot County Jail, according to an investigation by the Bangor Daily News. During the reporting of this story, two women, which include Bangor City Councilor Clare Davitt, reported their experience to Penobscot County Sheriff Troy Morton, who launched a still-ongoing investigation into Buzzell’s behavior. Buzzell of Corinth resigned in June but is still eligible to work as a Maine corrections officer and part-time law enforcement officer. Read more here about how the BDN’s Maine Focus team reported the story.

— Maine and the nation continues to mourn the death of our 41st president. On Saturday, the day after former President George Herbert Walker Bush died at age 94, mourners left roses and wreaths near his property at Walker’s Point in Kennebunkport. As recognition poured in from all over the world, Mainers embraced him as one of their own, even if he was not born here. “He’s a Mainer. He chose to live in Maine because he was an unassuming, low-key person with a good heart,” said Ernie Milner of Scarborough. Click here for tributes, reaction, remembrances and ongoing coverage of plans for Bush tributes.

— A review of ballots in Maine’s hotly contested 2nd Congressional District indicates that “math,” not an algorithm, decided the outcome. Maine Public reports that Bates College professor Nathan Tefftand Theo Landsman, a researcher for FairVote — a group that supports ranked-choice voting and collaborated with the BDN on 2nd District exit polling — independently concluded that basic math, not artificial intelligence, determined the final ballot tally reported by Maine election officials. Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, who lost the race to Democrat Jared Golden as a result of the ranked-choice system approved twice by Maine voters, has asked for a recount, filed a lawsuit in federal court and raised doubts about the automated ballot tallying system. “I think it’s time that we have real ballots, counted by real people,” Poliquin said in media appearance last week. Noting that he is “a real person,” Tefft took advantage of the fact that the ballots are publicly available and tried to replicate the count. “Yeah, it’s just math,” Tefft said. “There’s no sort of statistical analysis. There’s no prediction involved, which is necessarily a part of artificial intelligence, by the way.” His results mirrored those of the state.

— Maine could change its law for childhood vaccinations, limiting philosophical exemptions. A Maine lawmaker has proposed tightening the rules that allow parents to claim a non-medical exemption, after nearly 5 percent of parents chose not to immunize their kindergartners last year, 2 percent of which were for non-medical reasons. Rep. Ralph Tucker, D-Brunswick, plans to introduce a bill that would eliminate non-medical exemptions for vaccines, including religious and philosophical. “If there’s a low level of protection in any given school, if many children are no immunized, then an outbreak can occur,” Tucker said. Vaccine critic Ginger Taylor, director of the Maine Coalition for Vaccine Choice, thinks fears about opt-out rates are overblown. “Parents need to be able to know the risks and make informed choices,” she said. Maine is one of 18 states that allows philosophical exemptions.

Je ne comprends rien

After every major election, I leave the country. It’s for the common good.

Months of tiring — and often tiresome — campaign coverage fills me with so much bile that it’s unhealthy for people of good will to be anywhere near me. It got so bad this year that I had to have my gallbladder removed, but that’s a story for another time.

Usually, my incredibly patient wife and I go to England to let the political toxins drain safely in a place many time zones away from Maine. We love England and have friends there, but mostly we go because, well, we speak English and so do they.

But this year, recognizing that life is short, we broadened our horizons and decided to travel to Amsterdam, a couple of old Belgian cities and Paris. I had never been to any of them, in large part because, well, they speak languages other than English.

Communication is my work, so the prospect of not being able to communicate effectively with people in those places triggered quite a bit of trepidation. For the most part, my stress was unfounded.

Everyone I met in Amsterdam spoke English easily, and about half the stores there had English names. It was striking how omnipresent English has become on the European continent. Plus, Dutch is perhaps the most logical language on Earth, a delightful mix of English, German and Onomatopoeia.

The Flemish they speak in Belgium is basically Dutch with a French accent. They don’t like it when you call them Belch, but the folks who live there are otherwise easygoing and inviting.

The only communication breakdown I encountered involved a French guy in a uniform and his enormous guard dog. We were rushing to make a train connection in Brussels and went to the gate designated on the station’s message board. However, when we arrived, the French guy with a big gun and a bigger dog held up his hand and said, “ Acces interdict.”

Dusting off memories from my high school French class — supplemented by the quick intuitive thinking that comes from seeing a guy with a big gun and a bigger dog standing right where you want to go — I figured out that he was telling us to take a hike.

So I asked him, in English, where we were supposed to go.

“Je parle seulement francais,” was his stern response. [Note: I am leaving out the fancy accent marks that the French use when they write their language.]

That means he only speaks French, said that old voice in my head from Madame Horgan, my high school French teacher who helped me earn a French National Honor Society medal. [Note: The French give out medals for almost everything. This one was especially unhelpful when confronted by a guy with a gun and a big dog.]

Left unspoken was the second part of his message: “Mon chien geant aime manger les gros Americains.” [My giant dog loves to eat fat Americans.]

I refrained from asking him why he was only speaking French while in Belgium. [Note: Big gun, bigger dog]

We moved along. And caught our train. Barely.

The conductor laughed at us. In both French and English.

We tried to speak French in Paris, but most folks there quickly flipped the conversation to English. Except for that guy and his big dog, most of them seemed to appreciate our efforts to speak their language, minus the Franglais diction I picked up in Lewiston. But they preferred to leave the butchery to the white-coated guys with knives in the meat shops.

I came home with a renewed appreciation for multilingualism and hopes of honing the skills I learned all those years ago in French class. I’ll start by trying to figure out the best way to apologize to Madame Horgan for letting her down.

Here is my soundtrack, And here is a soundtrack for that guy and his dog. — Robert Long

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Alex Acquisto, Michael Shepherd and Robert Long. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to receive Maine’s leading newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings. Click here to subscribe to the BDN.

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