Janet Mills takes oath as Maine’s first female AG

By Judy Harrison, BDN Staff
Posted Jan. 06, 2009, at 9:59 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Janet T. Mills became Maine’s first female attorney general Tuesday in a ceremony at the State House.

Click here for the complete transcript of remarks given by Janet Mills at her swearing in ceremony.

Gov. John Baldacci swore in Maine’s constitutional officers, who were elected by the Legislature last month, at a ceremony in the well of the House of Representatives. The governor also administered oaths to Matthew Dunlap as secretary of state, David Lemoine as treasurer and Neria Douglas as state auditor.

It was one of the few times during her three-decade career that Mills, 61, of Farmington has found herself surrounded by women in positions of leadership in government. Speaker of the House Hannah Pingree of North Haven, President of the Senate Elizabeth “Libby” Mitchell of Vassalboro and Douglas all were present Tuesday.

“It’s so good to see things moving ahead,” Mills, a Democrat, told The Associated Press after her election last month. “Just because there are a lot of firsts doesn’t mean there can’t be a lot of seconds, thirds and fourths along the way. Maine men and women are sharing responsibilities more than in many other states, most other states.”

At Tuesday’s ceremony, Mills said she “ran for every Maine woman and girl who grows up in the shadows of Margaret Chase Smith and who seeks opportunity in this state.”

She won the job, Mills said Monday in an e-mail response to questions, based on her experience as a prosecutor, legislator and attorney in private practice.

“I ran the Office of the District Attorney [in Androscoggin, Oxford and Franklin counties] for nearly 15 years,” she said. “I counseled three boards of county commissioners, managed budgets, court dockets, human resources, computers, grants and supplies. In recent years I have served on the Appropriations Committee and the Judiciary Committee, which oversee the budget of the Attorney General’s Office. Finally, I have worked in a private law firm for 14 years where I also had certain administrative responsibilities.”

She most likely will use all of those skills in her new job as state government faces a potential budget shortfall of $850 million.

“The biggest challenge will be protecting the public safety during difficult economic times,” she said in the e-mail. “With a [high] number of homicides occurring during 2008, a high incidence of domestic violence, the growing problem of prescription drug diversion, and with state budget reductions in law enforcement and prosecution, we will have to work closely together and be creative to make sure we do not sacrifice the important rights of our citizens to be safe in their homes and towns. Maine’s quality of life — the bedrock of all our economic opportunities — depends in great part on the safety of our communities.”

Like her predecessor, G. Steven Rowe, 55, of Portland, Mills said she will be a “hands-on attorney general” ready to appear in court herself to represent the state. She added that she would try to stay upbeat, keep her sense of humor and not take herself too seriously.

Mills said she also would rely on the example set by Smith, the late U.S. senator from Skowhegan who inspired her at an early age.

“Sen. Margaret Chase Smith was always a role model for me growing up,” Mills said in her e-mail. “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.”

A different kind of mentor for her as an adult, Mills said, is former Attorney General and Gov. Joseph Brennan. He hired her in 1976 to work in the Attorney General’s Office as a prosecutor. Four years later, Brennan appointed her to succeed Thomas Delahanty II as district attorney in Androscoggin, Oxford and Franklin counties when Delahanty was tapped to be the U.S. attorney.

“The appointment was controversial,” said Mills’ brother, Sen. Peter Mills, R-Cornville, “because she was only 32 years old and several deputy district attorneys felt entitled to the job. She became the first woman district attorney in New England.”

Janet Mills was elected six months later to fill Delahanty’s unexpired term. She held that job until she moved to private practice and joined Wright & Mills, the Skowhegan law firm in which her brother Peter is a partner. She was elected to the House in 2002 and has been re-elected every two years since, including in November 2008.

A special election to fill her seat will be held Feb. 3. Dennis Haszko, 41, of Farmington was chosen as the Democratic nominee. He is an attorney who works with the Eaton Peabody Patent Group. He will face Republican Lance Harvell, 45, of Farmington. Harvell works at Verso Paper Co. in Jay and has run strong campaigns against Mills three times in the past.

Since being elected attorney general last month, Mills has been busy spending time with Rowe and his staff. She also had to leave the law firm and turn her caseload over to other attorneys.

“If one were to imagine an ideal resume for the office, Janet’s would be the model. She has done it all,” Peter Mills, who recently put together a timeline of his sister’s life, said Monday.

The public and media’s focus was not always on Janet Mills’ professional abilities, he pointed out.

A day that lives on in Mills family history is Nov. 6, 1978. That day’s edition of the Portland Press Herald included coverage of a murder trial in which Assistant Attorney General Janet Mills was the prosecuting attorney. The name of the defendant may have been lost to time, but the way the reporter covered it has been preserved by the family historian.

“The prosecutor wore a pale powder-blue sheath and high-heeled, strapless shoes and her flaxen blonde hair was cut in a boyish crop,” Bill Caldwell wrote in an article about the trial that Peter Mills described as “infamous.” “The strongly masculine Superior Court never looked better than the day the state prosecutor wore pale powder blue.”

Laurie Maloney, 61, of Lewiston has known Mills for nearly 30 years. The two became friends when they worked on U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy’s campaign for president in 1980. The woman Caldwell described is not the Janet Mills she knows.

“She’s very humble,” Maloney said Wednesday after returning home for the swearing-in ceremony. “She’s also probably one of the most compassionate persons I know. A few years ago, instead of gifts, she had us all give money to a home heating oil fund for her birthday.”

Mills married Stanley Kuklinski, whose first wife died of cancer, on Aug. 3, 1985. All five of his daughters, ranging in age from 6 to 18, were in the wedding, according to her brother Peter.

“Janet became, and is still, a mother to them all and now a grandmother to their children,” Peter Mills said.

The one family member missing Tuesday was the family patriarch. Sumner Peter Mills died in 2001 at age 90. A lawyer, he served five terms in the Legislature and as U.S. attorney for Maine.

His daughter said Monday that she knows what his advice would be: Be smart. Be honest. Stand up for the little guy or gal.

That, Maloney said Wednesday, is how Janet Mills lives her life every day.

jharrison@bangordailynews.net

990-8207

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

http://bangordailynews.com/2009/01/06/news/janet-mills-takes-oath-as-mainersquos-first-female-ag/ printed on April 16, 2014