Maine Gov. Janet Mills speaks to reporters at a news conference on Jan. 7, 2020, at the Statehouse in Augusta, Maine. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

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AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Janet Mills will not attend a historic tribal address on Thursday, a move that comes on the heels of fresh tension with chiefs over their top priorities.

The five tribal chiefs will address both chambers of the Legislature for only the second time in state history and the first time since 2002. Mills’ office told Maine Public she has a scheduling conflict — though spokespeople did not say what it is — and said the governor has offered to meet with chiefs.

Her move comes as tribes may have to circumvent the governor’s opposition to two of their major priorities in the 2023 legislative session, making tribal relationships with legislative Republicans more important than they have been in the past.

The context: While tribes have won more under Mills than they have under any governor in the last 40 years, she has also opposed many of their priorities. Last year’s milestone bill giving tribes control of a new sports betting market and tax relief came after the governor opposed a sweeping tribal sovereignty measure.

House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, who backed the large sovereignty push, is pledging progress on that issue this year.Recent events have shown that lawmakers may have to move without the governor.

In 2022, she lobbied Congress to kill a tribal sovereignty measure from U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, a Democrat from Maine’s 2nd District, finding an ally on the topic in Sen. Angus King, an independent former governor who caucuses with Democrats.

Last week, her office vociferously opposed a measure that would require treaty obligations that are technically part of the Maine Constitution be included in printed copies of the document, a practice that ended in 1876. Other top Democrats supported the change, including Attorney General Aaron Frey, who is normally aligned with Mills, and Secretary of State Shenna Bellows.

What’s next: It means that tribes and their allies need to look toward Republicans for helping pass their measures. They are looking to negotiate on the topic of sovereignty yet again this year. Any changes may need two-thirds majorities in both chambers to get around the governor’s veto pen. The constitutional amendment needs two-thirds votes to go to voters anyhow.

Republicans have historically been reticent to engage with the tribes, but things are a little bit different this year. House Minority Leader Billy Bob Faulkingham, R-Winter Harbor, has broken with predecessors by expressing some support for tribal priorities.

Assuming all House Democrats agree, he would have to bring along roughly 20 of his members to clinch supermajorities. Mills may be making those politicians the ones to watch from the gallery as chiefs speak on Thursday and while negotiations develop.

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...