What will dominate the headlines in Maine now that 2011 is over and 2012 is beginning to unfold? Count on reading plenty about the latest developments in the administration of Gov. Paul LePage. There will undoubtedly be ongoing controversy regarding the proposed national park in the Maine woods. Ditto the Occupy protests and budget and health care woes. But there also will be stories that surprise and delight us involving the arts and sports. The year 2011 has been a wild ride, and 2012 looks to be no different. The issues that made the news over the past 12 months aren’t going away anytime soon, and we expect that many of the most memorable events of 2012 will be shaped by these 12 people.
Gov. Paul LePage
His first year in office was a tumultuous mix of controversial statements, skirmishes over a now-famous labor mural, and pushing his get-tough agenda to rein in state spending in the face of looming budget deficits. Supporters say he’s the plain-spoken leader Maine needs to make difficult decisions and boost an ailing economy. Opponents say his blunt manner is divisive and hurts the state’s reputation. The year ahead appears no less challenging economically. How LePage handles the bully pulpit, media scrutiny and the fate of his initiatives — including his plan to address an estimated $220 million shortfall in the DHHS budget, in part, by repealing coverage for 65,000 MaineCare recipients — will make him the most-watched person in the state in 2012.
Nancy Torresen, U.S. District judge
The first woman in Maine to become a U.S. District judge was handed a high-profile case less than eight weeks after being sworn in on Oct. 3. Torresen is one of a handful of federal judges in the nation who will rule on challenges by Occupy groups. The former federal prosecutor brokered a behind-the-scenes deal in November that allowed Occupy Augusta protesters to remain in Capitol Park while their motion for a temporary restraining order was pending. Ten days later, Torresen ruled that the protesters had a right to protest in the park but could not camp overnight there. Attorneys on both sides praised how she handled the first legal skirmish after protesters left the park. Other issues in the lawsuit will be addressed in 2012. So far, Torresen’s judicial style is relaxed and respectful, coupled with a gentle firmness similar to that of her predecessor, U.S. District Judge D. Brock Hornby, who is highly respected by his fellow federal judges. If she patterns her judicial temperament and style after Hornby’s, her impact on the federal bench in Maine could be long-lasting.
Paul Ferguson, University of Maine president
Paul Ferguson was looking to the future as he took the reins as the University of Maine’s 19th president last summer. And he had plenty of questions. What does a 21st century land-grant university do? How does a university sustain itself through continued budget cuts? How does UMaine attract and keep students? Is the university as efficient in energy use, funding and operations as it could be? Ferguson plans on finding the answers to those questions during his first year at the university. “The only sustainable financial model is going to be a very diverse entrepreneurial approach,” he said during an interview in August. He also said he is determined to preserve and maintain buildings in the university’s historic district, which expanded this year to include more than 35 campus buildings. Ferguson assumed his new job on July 1, taking over from Robert Kennedy, who served as president for six years.
Mary Mayhew, Department of Health and Human Services commissioner
As head of the department that more than any other has come to symbolize state government inefficiency and waste, Mayhew has her work cut out for her. Less than a week after being confirmed for the commissioner’s post in February, she went before lawmakers to defend Gov. Paul LePage’s proposed welfare reforms. Not long after, she announced $66 million in mistaken Medicaid payments to the hospitals she formerly represented as an executive at the Maine Hospital Association. Mayhew has since become the public face of LePage’s controversial campaign to rein in social services, taking center stage in a heated statewide debate over who deserves the support of Maine’s safety net. She ushers in 2012 going to bat for a plan to close an estimated $220 million shortfall in the DHHS budget by dropping 65,000 people from MaineCare and awaiting Medicaid audit findings expected to shed light on just how much red ink the department is carrying.
Michael Brennan, mayor of Portland
In advance of Portland’s first public mayoral election since 1923, political veterans and analysts said the impact of the new mayor would depend greatly on who got elected. As the guy picked by voters on Nov. 8, former state lawmaker Michael Brennan gets to set the standard for how Portland’s mayor navigates the local and statewide political landscape — certainly for his term of the next four years, but potentially for the foreseeable future, as incoming mayors down the road will step into a job Brennan will have defined. Brennan campaigned as a collaborator whose experiences in 12 years in the state Legislature, as a licensed social worker, nonprofit leader and policy analyst would prime him to build partnerships among businesses, institutions and agencies in a way that benefit Maine’s largest city. Ethan Strimling, his top competitor in the crowded mayoral race, campaigned as a CEO-type who would authoritatively take charge of City Hall. The next 12 months will give Portlanders their first full year of mayoral work to use in deciding whether they made the right choice.
Steve Abbott, University of Maine director of athletics
Abbott is trying to guide the UMaine athletic department through some lean financial times. The next year will be pivotal in making final the funding for the planned $14 million renovations at the Memorial Gym and field house facility. Abbott, an Orono native, is in his second year at UMaine and is under contract through 2012-13. Another key issue he will face is the mediocre performance of the Black Bear men’s hockey team, which has meant a reduction in ticket revenues and some grumbling among the program’s fans. Although head coach Tim Whitehead is under contract through 2013-14, Abbott may face the possibility of considering a change, as he did with the women’s basketball program in 2011 when he fired head coach Cindy Blodgett of Clinton, former UMaine basketball star, with a year left on her contract.
Bari Newport, incoming artistic director for Penobscot Theatre Company
After a six-month search for a new leader for PTC, the committee finally decided on California native Bari Newport, recently an artistic associate at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta. Newport’s ideas include revamping the Northern Writes New Play Festival, creatively re-imagining productions of classic plays and bringing PTC even further into the community. Newport is the first female artistic director for the theatre and comes to PTC on the heels of several of its most successful box office seasons. Newport’s arrival signifies a new chapter for Bangor’s professional theater company.
Paul Doiron, author
The editor-in-chief of Down East magazine turned novelist has had a great couple of years, with his first tale, “The Poacher’s Son,” earning two awards as Best New Novel, and his second offering, “Trespasser,” turning into a best-seller on the New England Independent Booksellers Association list. His third book in the Mike Bowditch series, “Bad Little Falls,” hits shelves on Aug. 7, 2012. Doiron says he also has signed a three-year foreign-rights deal with Constable & Robinson, the oldest publishing house in Britain and original publisher of “Dracula.” On Jan. 20, Doiron will appear as a featured author at the BookMania Book Festival in Martin’s County, Fla., joining 13 others including Jim Lehrer of the PBS Newshour and best-sellers Nevada Barr and Andre Dubus III.
Chandler Woodcock, DIF&W commissioner
Like many in state government, the new commissioner of the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife will get credit mostly for hard times, not success. The dwindling deer herd of northern and eastern Maine — the target of an ambitious “Game Plan for Deer” — sits squarely in the sights of hunters frustrated with the status quo. Woodcock’s biggest challenge is to make the plan’s initiatives a reality. To do that, he’ll have to find some creative ways to raise and stretch a buck. And if that game plan is not addressed in quantifiable ways, Maine’s hunters will likely give him an earful.
The lightning rod of northern Maine and the woman who built Burt’s Bees into a profitable company has taken the proceeds from the sale of that company and reinvented the north woods. Or, at least, she has reinvented her sizable portion of the north woods. Quimby’s has requested a feasibility study for a north woods national park but has received pushback from towns where the mere mention of her name is divisive. Quimby’s challenge, moving forward, is to reinvent herself and to find more consensus with those who bitterly oppose everything she does.
Joseph Edwards, president of Maine Wellness Association
Edwards, with help from David Howes, president and CEO of Martin’s Point, is heading up Maine’s first “captive” for health insurance, a member-owned company offering employer-based health care. Employees in the MaineSense program can choose from a number of plans, all featuring primary care doctors, with the ability to shop for nonemergency procedures. MaineSense officially began in August and has 15 Maine employers on board, with another 15 to 20 interested. But it remains to be seen if the brave new experiment will pay off.
Rock Anthony, actor
A 2004 graduate of Presque Isle High School, Rock Anthony has been living in California for several years, auditioning, taking acting lessons and waiting for his big break. In 2011, he landed a small role on the hit TV series “Glee.” Since his first brief scene, the show’s writers have expanded his character’s role in the series, anointing him with the name Rick “the Stick” Nelson, the hockey team captain who revels in bullying the “Glee” team. He has appeared in four episodes this year. Though he’s ecstatic about his role in “Glee,” he already has his sights set on a role in a blockbuster film.
BDN staffers Emily Burnham, Michael J. Dowd, Judy Harrison, Nick McCrea, Jackie Farwell, Seth Koenig, Pete Warner, John Holyoke and Matt Wickenheiser contributed to this report.