Lobbyist gatherings usually mean Robyn Schnaible has to travel out of state. This week, she only has to travel across the bridge to Portland.
The South Portland resident is the executive director of the Washington Area State Relations Group, a Washington, D.C.-based networking group for state lobbyists. For the first time, her job will let her show off the city on a larger scale and help connect people with some of the most influential state officials as the National Governors Association comes to Portland for three days.
It will make the city a national political center from Wednesday through Friday: Most governors will be in attendance and many lobbyists and consultants will follow them, hoping to bend the ear of policymakers and get insight ahead of the charged 2022 midterm elections.
“It’s not that often that we get the opportunity to showcase Portland,” Schnaible said. “Typically, policy people are flying in here and going up to Augusta.”
The meeting will put Democratic Gov. Janet Mills in the spotlight as she faces reelection this fall. She is expected to speak on Thursday in a public session, her office said. Former Gov. Paul LePage, her predecessor and 2022 opponent, will be using the meeting to campaign alongside Republican Gov. Chris Sununu of New Hampshire, who also faces reelection this fall.
The governor did not take questions at a Lewiston housing event on Monday. But her office has said that she plans to showcase Maine’s tourism attributes with the state hosting the event for the first time since 1983. Portland initially won the 2020 summer meeting canceled due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The agenda itself for the three-day meeting is devoid of divisive national issues, in line with the association’s nonpartisan bent. Association chair Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican who recently flanked his state’s attorney general as she certified a law banning nearly all abortions, will lead Thursday discussions on computer science education and tourism.
Country music legend Dolly Parton will attend virtually, speaking about her literacy initiative and performing songs on Friday morning before Hutchinson turns the chairmanship over to New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat eyed as a future presidential hopeful.
Not all governors will be in attendance. Republicans across the country have eschewed membership in the dues-based organization, as LePage did in 2012 by saying Maine was not getting enough for the $60,000 annual fee. Big names including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott will not go to Maine, their offices said on Tuesday.
Those planning to go say the meeting is less about politics than connection, with Andy Hackman, a Maine-based federal lobbyist with the firm Serlin Haley LLP, saying he is not planning to attend representing any particular client, but to get a sense of how regional leaders are thinking about issues like climate change or health care.
“It’s not your typical lobbying scene,” he said.
Mainers might be surprised to see government officials poking into shops in the Old Port or taking a boat ride on Casco Bay. One attendee from North Carolina said she is excited to try a lobster. About 600 people, not including governors and staff, are expected to attend with many extending trips into a vacation, according to Visit Portland.
“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to not only welcome our nation’s Governors, their staff and families to Maine but to also showcase Portland and our great state during our glorious summer season,” Portland Chamber of Commerce CEO Quincy Hentzel said in a statement.
BDN writer Michael Shepherd contributed to this report.