By Timothy Randall
At the 2019 Maine Bicentennial Dinner, we celebrated Maine’s 200th anniversary as a State and got to see a video presentation of our highest elected living governors. They talked about what they really looked back on with admiration and gratitude, as well as their difficult times, favorite places and what newly elected governors should consider.
In 1967, Ken Curtis Kent became governor at the age of 35. He held office in the midst of the Vietnam War and Richard Nixon resigning from the Presidency, until his final term in 1975. Kent witnessed Democrats and Republicans coming together to work on things Maine needed as a state.
Kent mentioned how he was thankful that the Maine people saw the need to help the state and its people, and supported a tax increase to create more revenue for Maine. Regardless of party, the Democrats and the Republicans saw what really needed to be accomplished.
James B. Longley followed Kent; after Longley, the next governor featured was Joe Brennan. During his 8 years of governance from 1979 to 1987, there was an Indian Land Claim in progress and tribes were filing claims for over half the real estate in Maine. He said other ongoing issues faced at the time were creating jobs, economic development, and working to create the Finance Authority of Maine, which is still in place as of today. “The best human service program is a job,” he said.
One of Brennan’s proudest moments as governor was seeing a headline in the Portland paper saying, “Promises made, promises kept.” One of Joe’s favorite places in Maine is Portland Harbor and said newly elected governors should really look at what the state needs.
“It was the best of times and it was the worst of times,” said John McKernan, Jr., who was governor between 1987 and 1995. He recalls being pleased with the economic development, low unemployment rates, and incomes rising in Maine. Four years later, the whole country was in a recession. And the worst thing about it, was having enough money to fund government work while making investments in education, the economy and our businesses at the same time.
John’s proudest moment was fixing Maine’s workers compensation insurance system because the costs were so high. It led into a 13-day government shutdown but by the end of it, he formed a bipartisan Blue-Ribbon Commission to make recommendations on how to reduce workers compensation and it was a great success.
John thanked the Chamber of Commerce, businesses and Maine people for working towards the issue and convincing legislators to finally create the Maine Employers Mutual Insurance Company to protect Maine workers while having reasonable costs for employers. John’s advice for future leaders is to listen to the other side before making final decisions and listen to the people.
Upon coming into an economic recession, Angus King was governor from 1995 to 2003 where there were declines in old industries and rises in new ones. King was proudest of giving the same access to technology for kids in Fort Kent as in Cape Elizabeth. He said, “If we cannot do it for everybody, let’s not do it.”
The most difficult time for Angus was the ‘98 ice storm, which was one of Maine’s greatest natural disasters. He remembers saying, “It’s neighbor to neighbor, go check on your neighbors, especially if they’re disabled or elderly and make sure they’re okay.” Angus wants future leaders to not lose sight of the core assets of Maine – forests, ocean and its people.
When John Baldacci was governor from 2003 to 2011, Maine had the highest taxes in the country but was still able to invest in research and development to ensure we would grow as a state. His proudest moment was creating Dirigo, a health program supported by Harvard Pilgrim, which allowed Mainers to afford health care without going on Medicaid. John was also proud to see people working together, developing relationships regardless of their political party and views.
From 2011 to 2019, Paul LePage was governor and at the start of his time, unemployment rates were over 8%. Maine owed hospitals over $750 million and we had the second highest taxes in the country.
Paul is most proud of lowering unemployment to 2.7%, paying off the debts to our hospitals and lowering taxes by bringing back the liquor business. His advice to Maine is to be good to the people, our environment and our industries; “You’ve got a gold mine and should use it properly.”
When Janet Mills became governor in early 2019, she was impressed and proud that younger generations are concerned about climate change and Maine’s opioid epidemic. She says, “People have a lot more in common than we think – Maine is one state, not a state divided but a state united.” Her advice to future leaders is to listen to the people whether you agree or not.