Gov. Janet Mills has mostly had her way in the State House since she and fellow Democrats took it over in the 2018 election. 
Gov. Janet Mills carries a Maine-made Dove Tail baseball bat at Hadlock Field in Portland on Wednesday. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

Gov. Janet Mills has mostly had her way in the State House since she and fellow Democrats took it over in the 2018 election. 

She set early edges against progressive desires for tax hikes and gun control, and has never had a veto overridden after lawmakers went further than she wanted. Mills’ ability to either set the legislative agenda or eventually control it has not been effectively challenged to date.

This has led to pent-up frustrations on that side on causes from tribal sovereignty to labor. Those issues, respectively, are the top issues for House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, and Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash. Talbot Ross is in the breach now alongside other progressives who are trying to find ways to challenge Mills’ gatekeeper role.

The disputes: Talbot Ross’ chief of staff told his counterpart in the governor’s office last week that the speaker would not support Mills’ new $900 million spending package unless the governor gets behind three tribal bills that Mills has resisted so far, according to a statement from the governor’s office that rebuked Talbot Ross. Her office did not comment last week.

This has been perhaps the biggest outward dispute so far between two top Democrats in Augusta, but many lower-key divisions have emerged in the last two weeks between the governor’s spending goals and other negotiations afoot in the Legislature.

For example, her proposed expansion and overhaul of business tax credits is backed by Jackson, but has progressive critics. Her budget plan did not include money for a child tax credit expansion proposed by leading Democrats.

She also seems to be trying to rein in a paid leave effort that has a referendum threat from progressives hanging over fraught talks in the State House. Her administration is negotiating with the gun-rights Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine on a consensus package that may address so-called straw purchases of firearms after the high-profile shootings in Bowdoin and Yarmouth last month. Such a result may frustrate progressives who want more.

What’s next: There is a month left to go in the 2023 legislative session. It remains to be seen whether Talbot Ross will truly take her spending dispute with the governor to the mat and tank a budget proposal that has many things important to her members. 

But her actions and the potential paid leave referendum are ways that progressives are pushing the governor seriously for the first time. If they stick with them, the next month is going to be fraught with uncertainty.

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...