Gov. Janet Mills shows her L.L. Bean boots on stage at the Augusta Civic Center on Jan. 4, 2023, at her second inauguration. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Janet Mills won her office in 2018 after campaigning against many of former Gov. Paul LePage’s policies, then beat him in 2022. His reluctance to close state offices due to snow was not an issue in either race.

After Tuesday’s storm brought heavy snow to the region, the Democratic governor issued her 12th full-day closure of all state offices due to winter weather in just over four years in office. LePage only did so four times in his eight-year tenure, according to a Bangor Daily News review of statements, social media posts and news articles spanning the administrations.

Snow days were a political issue early in the LePage era in 2011, when his spokesperson at the time said the rule of thumb for closures was that if Marden’s Surplus and Salvage, the discount store chain that the former governor ran before he was elected, was open, the state should be.

Mills’ office did not elaborate on how exactly her strategy has differed from her predecessor’s, but it said the governor’s decisions are based on input from the transportation department and emergency management agency, plus advice from the major Maine electric utilities.

“When Maine is faced with a significant winter weather event, keeping Maine people safe is [Gov.] Mills’ top priority,” Ben Goodman, a Mills spokesperson, said.

LePage did not exactly hew to the hard line his office set for him, but he was stingy. The Marden’s pronouncement in 2011 came after he waited until 3 p.m. to send most workers home despite a storm bringing more than a foot of snow to much of the state.

“It’s Maine! It’s a winter day in Maine,” he told reporters at the time.

He generally relied on closing offices by geographic area or doing partial-day closures, waiting until the early part of his second term in January 2015 to shutter all state offices for a full day. Fifteen of the 19 LePage-era closings reviewed by the BDN were partial ones.

Mills, on the other hand, has already issued 22 total closings, including three for a full day this winter. That included Tuesday, when the governor shut down all state offices ahead of a storm that did not get going in Augusta until the early afternoon but led to rapid accumulation and blizzard conditions in the capital area around the normal commuting time.

Hundreds of Maine state workers are called to work regardless of weather conditions, including public safety, communications, direct care and security workers and Maine Department of Transportation plow drivers who work long shifts when it snows. Other workers are not expected to work when their offices are closed for a full day, even those with telework arrangements.

The state controller’s office estimated in 2007 that snow days cost $1 million in pay alone at an 11,400-member workforce. Maine had 10,900 workers as of March 1 but pays higher salaries. A spokesperson for Mills’ budget office did not respond to a request for the current estimate.

Money is not the only part of the balancing test for governors. Whether to close can be a “life or death decision,” said Alec Maybarduk, the executive director of the Maine Service Employees Association, the Democratic-aligned union representing state workers.

Mills has not always made the right decisions on closures, Maybarduk said, citing one that he thought was made too late and forced workers to drive home in heavy snow. But she has been far better than LePage, whom he said showed a “callous attitude” on the topic.

“The state should always err on the side of safety,” Maybarduk said.

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...