A.G. Janet Mills a Mainer for Everyone, ME too

 

By Ramona du Houx

“Margaret Chase Smith was always a role model for me growing up,” Janet Mills told a reporter back in 2009. “She was a woman of both grit and integrity who held high public office with grace and vision. She held her ground and didn’t take any grief from anyone, even from presidents and foreign leaders.”

Those are words, which also apply to A.G. Janet Mills. A fighter, who has experienced the reality women face, of having to be twice as good as a man in any occupation requiring a suit. She’s always kept to her principals. She has stood firmly against many of President Trump’s doctrines and the policies of Governor Paul LePage. She squared off against LePage, legally demanding he follow the law to expand Medicaid, as the voters of Maine decreed in a ballot referendum.

When LePage first became governor he tried to cut off thousands of children from health care services. A.G. Mills said he couldn’t. He sued in federal court and Mills won. She’s also won lawsuits for the people in Maine against Standard Pours and Moody’s, as well as Pharmaceutical companies and provided drug relief for those in need when LePage refused to do so.

“Since Trump’s election, the focus of litigation has changed dramatically, as we work with other states to protect due process and rule of law in education, immigration, health and welfare, and the environment. We feel in many instances the Trump administration has not complied with the rule of law and has done things to harm the safety and health of Maine people,” she said.

PHOTO: AG Janet Mills with her grandaughter, when Mills was a lawmaker in the legislature in 2007.photo by Ramona du Houx

Mills has always stood for equality and believes strongly in justice for all. The current status of the Supreme Court is unsettling to her.

“Whether Justice Kavanaugh is confirmed or not, the way the Supreme Court is going is not in a good direction,” she said. “If he is confirmed we will not be able to trust that the Supreme Court of the United States will ensure our rights — whether it’s labor, human rights, immigration, women’s rights, education, all kinds of rights that are hanging in the balance. And the states are going to be the last line of defense.”

Mills defeated six opponents, who now stand behind her, to win the Democratic Party's nomination in June. She’s Maine’s first female criminal prosecutor, the first female district attorney in New England, the first female attorney general of Maine, and a co-founder of the Maine Women’s Lobby. She headed the Maine Prosecutors Association, and served three terms in the Legislature.

She has campaigned to expand Medicaid, food assistance to children and fiber-optic internet lines; to increase investments in research and development and meet the state’s funding obligations to school districts; to expand opioid treatment options and make the anti-overdose drug Narcan widely available.

“I think about a Maine that is a Maine undivided, where teachers are valued and kids kept safe, a Maine where we have broadband and generate our own renewable energy. I know the best chapter in our state’s history has yet to be written,” she said.

But she hasn’t always wanted a life in the political or legal arena. “I never imagined that would happen,” she said.

Following her parents’ wishes, Mills enrolled in her parent’s alma mater, Colby College. Women in the days she attended Colby faced restrictions about where, when, what and with whom they could spend their time that were not imposed on their male counterparts. “It was a double standard — it felt confining,” she said. “So I dropped out after a year and a half.”

Mills moved to San Francisco then to Boston, where she worked as a nursing assistant at a psychiatric hospital.

During this time she dated a man who became an abusive drunk. She knows how it feels to be belittled verbally, to fear physical harm and to defend herself. Once he brandished a gun she left the relationship. She has made public statements backing the Me too movement.

 In 1969 she enrolled at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. She joined the school’s first junior year abroad program, spending the 1970-71 academic year in Paris. She backpacked through Western Europe and became fluent in French, and changed her major to French.

“There was a lot of stuff going on in the ’60s that encouraged my somewhat rebellious nature,” she said. “There were a lot of things that needed fixing, and it was a time that was the opposite of apathy, a time of deep involvement, socially, emotionally and politically — so I became a Democrat.”

On returning from Paris, she worked for two years at a law firm specializing in intellectual property. “I saw all these guys – everyone was a guy – all lawyers making money, but I was doing all the work,” she told the Bates interviewer in 1999. “I thought that doesn’t seem right.”

She enrolled at the University of Maine School of Law, where she excelled, interning at the Cumberland County District Attorney’s Office, learning to prosecute criminal cases.

In 1974 she was a summer intern for legendary civil rights attorney Charles Morgan, during the Watergate hearings, at the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington, D.C.