AUGUSTA, Maine — Both Democrats and Republicans stood on the floor of the House of Representatives Monday to speak fondly about H. Sawin Millett Jr.
Millett, 76, of Waterford, is the retiring Commissioner of the Department of Administration and Financial Services under Republican Gov. Paul LePage, but he was also a long-serving state lawmaker who became an expert on the state budget during his 55 years in public service.
“I can tell you that no one in the State House knows more about the workings of this state government, has a greater institutional memory or has a greater command of state finances than Sawin Millett,” state Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, said. “No one is smarter or more clever or has served the people of Maine with greater dedication.”
Rotundo, the current House chair of the Legislature’s budget-writing Appropriations Committee, said she served with Millett for more than nine years, including working with him on the committee when he was a lawmaker.
“Sawin has been a generous mentor to legislators who have work with him and that is an important part of the legacy he leaves behind him,” Rotundo said.
Millett was heralded for not only his dedication to his work but to his family as well. Rotundo and other lawmakers noted how he would frequently drive home to Waterford at all hours of the night or in all weather conditions even after working on difficult state budget matters into the wee hours, year after year.
State Rep. Tom Winsor, R-Norway, also thanked Millett for his mentorship and noted his long friendship with Millett that started years ago when Winsor lived first in Harrison and then in Millett’s hometown of Waterford. Winsor said Millett was a remarkable man, but he wouldn’t be where he is without the support of his family and wife, Barbara.
“I asked a few people in Waterford to describe their view of Sawin to me,” Winsor said. “They used words like, ‘darn good man, very bright, hard-working and honest,’ and I agree. But no one could do the things that Sawin has done in his long career without the support and guidance of a wonderful partner. Barbara Millett is that wonderful partner and, in my view, a saint.”
Millett has played a key role in crafting LePage’s budgets and fiscal policy since taking the finance commissioner post in 2011.
“After nearly 55 years of public service at the local, state and federal levels here in Maine, I have decided that it is time to phase down the hectic pace of my daily commitment and devote more time to enjoying the wonderful family, farm and community pleasures that await me in Waterford, my birthplace, and the source of many generations of Millett family heritage,” Millett wrote to the governor in his resignation letter. “Thank you for giving me the privilege of serving in your administration.”
Millett also worked in the administration of former Gov. John McKernan, Maine’s last Republican governor before LePage. He served in the administrations of independent governors Angus King and James Longley, and he also served briefly in the administration of Democratic Gov. Joseph Brennan in 1979.
LePage in a prepared statement has also touted Millett.
“His quiet authority and wisdom gained over more than five decades of public service have commanded the highest respect from everyone in state government,” LePage wrote, “and the depth of his experience will be difficult to replace.”
Millett began his career as a teacher and coach at Carmel High School in 1959, after he graduated from Bates College. He earned a master’s degree in education from the University of Maine in 1967, and he served as a teacher, coach and principal until 1971.
He served as the executive director of the Maine School Management Association and was an assistant professor with the University of Southern Maine.
His first experience in elected office was as a selectman from 1963 to 1970 in Dixmont. He later served as a selectman in his hometown of Waterford from 1986 to 1989.
Millett has served six terms in the Maine House of Representatives, from 1969 to 1972 and from 2002 to 2010.
State Rep. Kathleen Chase, R-Wells, the lead House Republican on the Appropriations Committee, said her eight years in the Legislature have been greatly informed by Millett’s knowledge.
She said when difficult budget questions crop up, a common refrain around the State House has been, “Go ask Sawin or go find Sawin and ask him, he’ll know.”
Chase said that at first she questioned why one person seemed to be held in such high reverence, but found out quickly enough.
“Once you’ve had a conversation with the man, once you understand how he thinks and how he performs, it’s just amazing and you understand why people would say, ‘Go ask Sawin,'” Chase said.
Millett is expected to be honored again Tuesday in the state Senate, where lawmakers there will share their sentiments about his career in Maine government.