Though she never asked, I decided to offer Governor Mills some factual edits to her second inaugural speech while filling out some of the areas where she could have been a little more forthcoming. Words from her speech are highlighted in red.
I can report to you that, across this Maine – this one Maine – hope is very much alive – despite my best efforts.
You asked us to manage our budgets prudently. So State government has lived within its means and built up the Rainy Day Fund to a record high to shelter us from the impacts of inflation and a possible recession. Of course, to do this means we will collect 40% more in taxes in the current budget than in the last budget before I took office. Prudently? That’s a record tax revenue increase of $3 billion out of the taxpayers’ pockets.
MAINE STATE BUDGET – REVENUE
You are asking us to make sure that every child is safe, acknowledging that these drugs that are killing adults are endangering children too. We reactivated the Children’s Cabinet, long dormant. We put more child protection workers on the street. And we’re adding resources for foster families in order to keep our children safe. Despite these steps, we set a new record for child deaths in our state and had to resist bipartisan efforts by the Legislature, including a lawsuit, to find out why, denying them access to public records.
With the brilliant leadership of Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew and CDC Director Nirav Shah and others, we answered the call. As a candidate four years ago, I promised to completely reform DHHS, but I never got around to it. That may be why, just yesterday, the annual report of the DHHS ombudsman pointed out that our Child Welfare program has shown a “downward trend in child welfare practice” with “substantial issues” in more than half of all cases that were reviewed—MORE THAN HALF!
[RELATED: Maine Child Welfare Agency Reports Systemic, Deadly Failures in 2022…]
I think my old friend and fellow Democrat, Joe Baldacci, described it best tonight when he said, “The ombudsman’s report is not surprising. It only highlights the recurring systemic issues and problems in the system. What we really need is an independent office that will bring accountability to the system.”
As to Director Shah, Commissioner Lambrew brought him to Maine after he played an active role in Illinois state government where nearly every important government official from either party demanded his resignation or firing. To the Legislature, she highlighted his “successes in responding to the opioid crisis and improving the lives of children.”
Under Dr. Shah’s leadership, Illinois saw the number of fentanyl deaths rise by what he called “a tenfold increase in just a few years.” Not surprisingly, as soon as he came to Maine, we set a record for the number of overdose deaths and have done so every year since he and I took office.
But today, rather than calling attention to my long record of failures, I will spend most of my speech discussing poetry, Moxie, and talking about people who lived more than a century ago but set a real example of success and accomplishment. Also, large luminous, neon-like signs, began popping up in cities across Maine. “Hopeful,” they read in colorful, cursive script. These signs became a symbol not only of survival but of health, renewal, new life.
One of the highlights of my first four years came on June 1, 2020, when I used state staffers and other resources to help me prepare and hold a press event to tell Mainers about the tongue-lashing I gave to President Trump on a telephone call with state governors. Of course, I never dreamed the White House would release the audio of the entire call later that day when they learned I had held the press conference to lie about the entire exchange. As I hoped, not one single media outlet in Maine pointed out the many lies I told that day, even though they had video of my press event and audio of the phone call to compare to each other.
Poetry, Moxie, neon signs, and did you see? I am wearing gum rubber boots.
Today, I see hope in the faces of the women shopkeepers in Lewiston and Portland who are selling fabrics, foods and spices from other countries. They, too, have hope that Maine may someday again be among our nation’s leaders in the equity in pay between men and women. Just before I took office, Maine’s “gender pay gap” was second smallest in the U.S. behind only California, but the latest data from the U.S. Department of Labor shows that under my leadership, we fell from 2nd to 47th among states in just two years.
Four years ago I stood before you and promised to work for a healthier, more vibrant, more welcoming state. Instead, I closed businesses, turned away tourists, and did great harm to our healthcare industry by ordering the harshest vaccine mandate in the country. I did this even though the U.S. CDC made it clear just a week earlier that the vaccine did not prevent anyone from infecting others. This science-ignoring step wreaked havoc in our residential care facilities, horribly exacerbating the already-crisis level staffing problem.
The week I announced the mandate, Maine had zero cases of COVID-19 among nursing home staffs, for example—not one case. Three months later, Maine led the nation in the number of deaths among residents in these still underfunded, and now understaffed nursing homes. Many of them closed—three of them as soon as I announced the mandate—as thousands of workers left the industry and today, one quarter of the beds across Maine are idle and unoccupied due to inadequate staffing and too low funding.
In the middle of the pandemic, more than one-half of the COVID-related deaths in Maine occurred among nursing home residents whose facilities I had underfunded in every budget I proposed. Around that time, Maine received a huge grant from the federal government’s Coronavirus Relief Fund totaling $1.25 billion. Despite the fact that more than half of the COVID deaths in Maine were nursing home related, I allocated less than one percent of these funds to these facilities.
Soon after, we received another billion dollars in federal aid under the American Rescue Plan Act. Few, if any, institutions in Maine needed or deserved rescuing more than our nursing homes, but I used zero percent—NONE—of those funds to aid these underfunded, understaffed facilities I have neglected for years.
You said you wanted a government that made the dream of higher education attainable for more people. Instead, we went from record enrollments at our public universities and something truly unprecedented—waiting lists for admission—that helped balance the budget for our university system. Just a few short years ago, our state universities were more popular than they had ever been. Now, we can enjoy the new reality in which we must close dormitories and dining halls in Orono due to declining enrollment and find ways to cut funding and programs to close the new, huge budget gap.
You said you wanted health insurance for more people, so we expanded MaineCare to more than 100,000 people, as the voters told us to do. We did this by spending huge sums of federal dollars while convincing Mainer’s that this federal money is “free money” even though 700,000 of us pay the federal taxes that fund these programs.
Overall in the last three years, Maine has received more than $17 billion in federal aid. That amounts to $24,000 for every federal taxpayer in our state who will have to pay it back in some way at some point.
You are asking us to diversify our energy sources and loosen the stranglehold fossil fuel companies have on the wallets of Maine families and businesses. So we are pursuing renewable sources of energy that will protect both our environment and your family’s bottom-line, instead of big oil’s profits. Sadly, however, despite the many millions we have spent, it isn’t working at all.
[RELATED: Maine Solar Power Project Linked to Chinese Forced Labor…]
For a decade prior to my election, Maine ranked among the nation’s leaders in the reduction of CO2 emissions by percentage. In just my first two years in office, however, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, our beautiful state fell to 42nd in the U.S. in the reduction of energy-related CO2 emissions, far below the national average.
Under my predecessor, Paul LePage, Maine was ranked 3rd in this category, and under his predecessor, John Baldacci, Maine ranked 1st in the nation. Thanks to our new ranking in the bottom ten, we now have more room—and hope—for movement upward.
Speaking of the environment, no group in Maine supported my candidacy more than the environmental lobby. For a while now, one of their highest priorities has been to remove the four remaining dams on the Kennebec River. During the last few years, I filed official papers with the federal government, and even conducted an illegal rulemaking process hoping I could force FERC, the federal agency in charge of dams, to not renew the license for the Shawmut Dam that makes the SAPPI paper mill run.
When the dam’s owners discovered my illegal rulemaking, and the feds disregarded my filings, my Department of Environmental Protection used its clout to deny a necessary Water Quality Certification to stop the dam’s relicensing—twice. Mind you, this was not because the water wasn’t perfectly clean, they admitted that it was, even at the SAPPI mill discharge pipe. Instead, they cited the fact that only 96% of the Atlantic Salmon that wanted to get over the dam were able to. Apparently they had found a way to ask each fish what they wanted. DEP said that 99% of the fish should be able to surmount the dam. That is a difference of 1.32 fish per year, and for that I wanted to remove the dam which would close the mill and make jobless the 5,800 Mainers who rely on it for their jobs, many of them Union jobs.
Squeezed between Democrat-supporting union workers and Democrat-supporting environmental groups, I simply denied that I ever wanted the dam removed, despite the legal records and dozen of pages of official filings that proved otherwise.
Indeed, there is hope for the future, and this is important, because it is all we have, really. We have failed our children, our nursing homes, our taxpayers, and even in our efforts on climate change, but we are hopeful. When I think of the millions we have wasted on climate issues instead of spending it on Maine’s most vulnerable citizens, only to see our CO2 effectiveness drop below all but eight other states, I find solace in hope—and Moxie—and poetry—and neon signs—and gum rubbers.
Hope, for example, that our severely intellectually disabled neighbors who were cast out of the more than three-dozen group homes that closed under my leadership because I won’t fund them adequately, will find new facilities who will care for them, somewhere.
One way in which we have prevented more fossil fuels from sending harmful CO2 into the atmosphere was by failing to provide federal money from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) to poor Mainers who needed help to heat their homes more than ever. Despite having twice the available cash versus the previous year, we managed to provide funds to just 20% of eligible applicants simply because two agencies of state government could not exchange data and we could not post a simple pdf application form online, something nearly any website manager can do in 15 minutes.
When it came time to review LIHEAP applications again this fall, we still had not posted the application, even though this violated a new Democrat-sponsored law that now requires us to.
You are asking us to diversify our energy sources and loosen the stranglehold fossil fuel companies have and now we are accelerating our investment in electric vehicles with their batteries made from cobalt, mined by the bare hands of 40,000 suffering children in the Congo, and we are buying solar panels from a company that uses forced Chinese labor to build them. This is suffering that has done nothing to reduce our CO2 emissions in relation to 41 other states who are all doing it better.
Hope, however, lingers just six months away, when I will be able to sign the third state budget of my time in office. No doubt my fellow Democrats and I will lock Republicans out of the budget process as we did two years ago—after all, these are people I once referred to as barn animals because they only voted in favor of two-thirds of my borrowing proposals.
As we have increased the tax burden on Maine people by 40% under my first two budgets, I am hopeful since we still have two more budgets to pass under my leadership, dipping still deeper into the pockets of Maine people to spend at even greater record amounts. Because of this, hope springs as eternal as our desire to spend every dollar we can find, even as we squander it by the millions.