Gov. Janet Mills makes an appearance in the gallery of a Portland courtroom the morning of Nov. 7, 2018, where Medicaid expansion was being debated.

Good morning from Augusta, where we’re assessing the impact of Gov.-elect Janet Mills’ first Cabinet nomination.

Mills went outside Maine to find a nominee with deep policy experience to run the most high-profile agency in state government. In nominating Jeanne Lambrew to serve as commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services, Mills signaled her faith in a policy wonk with extensive government experience to refocus the department’s mission. That contrasts sharply with the “small government” approach embraced by Republican Gov. Paul LePage and his administration during the past eight years.

Lambrew has an A-list resume for a Democratic administration. She coordinated health policy in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services during former President Bill Clinton’s administration, later served as director of the Office of Health Reform in the federal department under President Barack Obama and eventually became an Obama policy assistant during the rollout of the Affordable Care Act.

By choosing her over Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, who had been mentioned as a possible nominee and has been legislative Democrats’ point person on health and human services for the past four years and a frequent combatant with LePage’s administration, Mills indicated that she sees the position as more than simply a vehicle for reversing LePage policies — though that will happen, with voter-approved Medicaid expansion likely coming soon.

In some ways, Lambrew is the mirror image of LePage’s commissioner pick, who made Maine a model for conservative health policy. As attorney general, Mills played a major role in many of the LePage-era conflicts over health policy, often going to court to settle disputes between Democrats and the LePage administration. Now, she’s setting in motion her own Democratic rebuilding of the department.

In 2011, LePage recruited a hospital lobbyist, Mary Mayhew, to serve as his DHHS commissioner. She had been involved in pressuring former Gov. John Baldacci’s administration to catch up on late payments to hospitals. When she took over as DHHS commissioner, Mayhew essentially changed positions in an ongoing debate over managing Maine’s social service network.

Despite her role in rolling out the controversial Affordable Care Act, Lambrew hasn’t been involved heavily in Maine politics. But she’s assuming the job likely in large part due to the transformation of DHHS under LePage, which made Mayhew a star in Republican circles and led to her current job overseeing Medicaid for President Donald Trump’s administration.

Her pick is emblematic of Mills’ locked-down transition to the Blaine House. Lambrew’s pick makes sense resume-wise, but it may have surprised many after Gattine was publicly floated for the job. Her name wasn’t mentioned by insiders early on in the transition process.

Not much has leaked out about the transition process so far. Mills is acting slower to announce appointments than LePage was in 2011, when he announced his first two commissioners by Dec. 8. Mills has only named her chief of staff, communications team and Lambrew so far.

LePage didn’t finish appointing commissioners until well into his tenure, however, and Mills has a stated goal of naming as many as possible before she takes office on Jan. 2. Mills spokesman Scott Ogden said more commissioner announcements are coming this week, so she may pull ahead of LePage soon enough.


Reading list

— Maine business leaders generally give LePage high marks for the way he dealt with the economy during his tenure as governor. Some lauded his willingness to communicate with and offer assistance to growing companies. “He took the time to write personal letters to them. It was impactful,’ said Peter DelGreco, president and CEO of Maine & Co., a privately held company that helps attract businesses to the state. The governor also earned praise for the way he managed state government finances and for the role he played on trade missions. His role in scuttling an offshore wind energy project drew some criticism, as did his penchant for making controversial comments that placed Maine in the global spotlight. “He did bring unwanted negative attention to the state, which is never good,” said Kay Aikin, CEO of Introspective Systems. “It stops people from coming here. but not companies from coming here.”

— Maine’s senior senator does not believe a federal judge’s decision that Obamacare is unconstitutional will hold up on appeal. During a Sunday morning interview on CNN, Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins said that she is confident that a federal judge’s ruling declaring the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional will be overturned. “There’s no reason why the individual mandate provision can’t be struck down and keep all the good provisions of the Affordable Care Act,” Collins told Jake Tapper on “State of the Union.” The lawsuit, initiated by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, argued that the health care law was invalid because the repeal of the mandate that all Americans have health insurance or pay a penalty has stripped the Affordable Care Act of its enforcement mechanism. Collins cast a decisive vote last December to pass the Republican tax bill that repealed the individual mandate. Collins’ support for the bill came after pledges from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to support two measures to shore up the health care marketplace by restarting health care payments to insurers halted by President Donald Trump and providing $10 billion in reinsurance funds to help states cover the cost of care for the sickest patients. Those measures were ultimately delayed and not included in an omnibus spending bill passed by Congress in March.

— U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin called off the recount of 2nd Congressional District ballots Friday, a day after he lost his ranked-choice voting argument in federal court. “Due to the impending holidays, I believe it’s important to end the recount process,” the Republican congressman said Friday on social media, adding that he still had “unanswered questions” about the ranked-choice voting system, which was twice enshrined by voters. No major result fluctuations came to light during the recount, which was more than halfway complete when Poliquin asked state election officials to stop counting. Poliquin, who lost the election to Democrat Jared Golden, took his defeat to court last month, arguing that RCV was unconstitutional and in violation of other laws. A federal judge last Thursday thoroughly rejected that challenge. With the recount concluded and the legal argument decided, Poliquin’s only remaining course of action now is to contest Walker’s decision in a court of appeals. Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap said as much in a statement following the recount’s end. “For all practical purposes, this election is concluded with the cessation of the recount, and the district court’s ruling makes it legally clear that it is not unconstitutional to lose an election.”


The madness of homeownership

The brave souls who read to the bottom of the Daily Brief each day know that I recently bought a house. I got last week off from work and I didn’t do much except unpacking the place and buying things for it, plus a paltry amount of Christmas shopping.

Quickly, I have noticed that my sensibilities have changed. I now feel a panic if my girlfriend turns the heat up past 67 degrees. Yesterday, I thought there was a wet spot on the kitchen ceiling (it was just a bad paint-over job that has been there since I moved in). I’m an expert in finding the best variety packs of lightbulbs at Renys.

After the very bad Patriots game on Sunday, I decided to engage in some therapeutic vacuuming using this cool new Dyson. I actually remember thinking to myself, “I’m really excited about this vacuum.” (It is a really versatile vacuum.)

My ascent (or descent, depending on how you view things) into fatherhood is complete, except for the children. Here’s my soundtrack. — Michael Shepherd

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Michael Shepherd, Alex Acquisto and Robert Long. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to receive Maine’s leading newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings. Click here to subscribe to the BDN.

To reach us, do not reply directly to this newsletter, but email us directly at mshepherd@bangordailynews.com, aacquisto@bangordailynews.com, and rlong@bangordailynews.com.

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...