Wearing her L.L. Bean boots, Maine Gov. Janet T. Mills walks into the Augusta Civic Center on Wednesday Night, Jan. 4, 2023, before taking the oath of office for the second time. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

AUGUSTA, Maine — Mainers from the coalition that gave Gov. Janet Mills a resounding November victory gathered Wednesday at her inauguration to celebrate her second term.

We spoke to attendees as they came in about what they want to see out of the Democratic governor over the next four years. The group included those who want to see Mills take a more progressive turn and have visceral connections to Maine’s top issues.

Reducing homelessness

George Stanley and Donna Wesson have a personal connection to the homelessness issue that has permeated communities across Maine: They primarily live out of a van that they park at an unheated barn with no running water or central heating in Greene.

That’s why they braved the cold on Wednesday to raise awareness about homelessness to dignitaries. Someone mistook them for anti-Mills demonstrators, but the opposite is true. Stanley sees Mills as the only hope to address the state’s homelessness problem. He hopes she puts more funds and effort toward it in her second term.

“We’re not just numbers,” Stanley said. “If we’re off over there in the woods, nobody knows we’re here.” 

‘A little more progressive’

Anne Conners drove an hour from Cushing after also attending Mills’ first inauguration in 2019. While she describes herself as not especially political, she said she was most excited to see history: the first female governor in Maine to be re-elected.

She admires the way Mills gained support from some Republican voters in November, saying her “middle of the road” policies had given her broader appeal.

That said, she hopes Mills can move on a more progressive direction on issues including tribal sovereignty. The governor divided with Democratic lawmakers on a sweeping push last year that was set aside in favor of a sports betting compromise. The new House speaker, Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, championed the wider effort.

“I’d like her to move a little more in some progressive directions,” Conners said. 

More common ground

Elizabeth Lurvey of Gorham, who was invited through her work, described Mills’ first term as “a little bit tumultuous,” especially due to COVID-19 and the resulting battle over pandemic policies between the parties. However, she also doesn’t know who in Maine could have done better.

“I’m hoping to find a little bit more common ground with the Republican Party,” Lurvey said. “And some more substantial financial changes for the state.”

Cheryl Rust of Wiscasset said increased partisanship in Maine concerned her but believes Mills has what it takes to bridge that divide. 

“She is a very good listener and skilled,” Rust said. “She has tremendous respect for multiple viewpoints herself.” 

Against abortion, for Mills

While many voters outside of political and legal circles met Mills the first time around a decade ago, Andrea Kierstead of Farmington has been along for the whole ride.

“I’ve known Janet pretty much all my life because I went to school with her sister Dora [Mills],” Kierstead said with a laugh. 

Kierstead said she hopes Gov. Mills keeps the course on her first term policies except for abortion, which Kierstead opposes. Mills made abortion access a linchpin of her campaign after the Supreme Court overturned a constitutional right to abortion in June and she affirmed her pro-abortion rights stance during her address.

Less COVID, more time  

Marge Kilkelly of Dresden was one of several former members of the Legislature in attendance, including longtime House Speaker John Martin, D-Eagle Lake. With COVID-19 cases low, Kilkelly is looking forward to Mills being able to focus on other priorities.

“Right now, there isn’t anything more important than celebrating democracy,” she said.

Address climate change, child deaths

Deb Cayer of Chesterville said she was encouraged by Mills’ first term, but she wants to see her go all-out on fighting climate change. 

“She’s done a lot with alternatives,” Cayer said. “But, we really need to get on the go with this.” Like many in attendance, Deb came with a member of her family: her sister Cheryl Cayer, an artist from Waterville, who is hoping Mills will address the spate of recent child deaths in Maine, including the Christmas homicide death of a 3-year-old girl in Edgecomb.