August 22, 2019
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Former House Speaker Hannah Pingree to lead Mills’ promised ‘future’ office

Courtesy photo | BDN
Courtesy photo | BDN
Hannah Pingree

AUGUSTA, Maine — Former Maine House Speaker Hannah Pingree was introduced Thursday as Gov. Janet Mills pick to run a rebranded policy office aimed at focusing on the state’s economic future, though its ramp-up will require legislative approval.

It marks a long-awaited return to politics for Pingree, 42, of North Haven, who was House speaker from 2008 to 2010, the last of her four legislative terms. The daughter of U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree of the 1st District is often mentioned as a potential Democratic candidate for high office.

For now, Pingree is director of the Democratic governor’s Office of Policy and Management, which began under Republican Gov. Paul LePage after he led the disbanding of the State Planning Office that Maine had since 1968. Mills wants to turn it into the Office of Innovation and the Future.

[Back to the future: Mills’ plan for a Maine innovation office really began 50 years ago ]

In her inaugural address earlier this month, the new governor said the rebranded planning unit “will dive into major policy challenges” and “foster collaboration” between state agencies. On Thursday, Mills said the office will be focused on “action” and “taking down the silos that state government has been working under for a long time.”

The new office will likely be a hybrid of the offices started by former Gov. Kenneth Curtis in the 1960s and the thinner policy office that began under LePage in 2012. When Curtis and the Legislature founded the State Planning Office, its mission was to coordinate between government agencies on long-term issues, including the economy, energy and conservation.

The think tank-like office was especially visible during the administration of former Gov. Angus King under Evan Richert, who was picked in 1995. Reports from his tenure included ones largely blaming increased municipal spending on sprawl, looking at the feasibility of an east-west highway and on attracting retirees to Maine.

The planning office’s 40 or so employees were mostly moved to other agencies after the new office was founded under LePage, who mostly charged it with finding government savings and bolstering his agenda. It went dormant in mid-2018 after LePage’s last director resigned.

Pingree said on Thursday that the office will add five positions while coordinating work between agencies in the short term. The Democratic-led Legislature will consider changing the office’s name and scope during the 2019 session, including in negotiation over the two-year budget.

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