LEWISTON — Republican gubernatorial candidate Mary Mayhew said Friday that Attorney General Janet Mills and State Treasurer Terry Hayes shouldn’t be pocketing government paychecks while they campaign for Maine’s top job.
“They have full-time jobs the taxpayers are paying for,” said Mayhew, one of four contenders in the June 12 Republican primary for governor. If they want to run for higher office, she said, they should resign.
Both Mills and Hayes are convinced, however, that they can do their state work while pursuing the opportunity to reside in the Blaine House.
“How many Mainers quit a job before they have the next one?” Hayes asked.
Mills is one of seven Democrats vying for her party’s gubernatorial backing in the primary. Hayes is an independent who won’t have to face voters until the Nov. 6 general election.
Mayhew, who spent more than six years as the health and human services commissioner for Gov. Paul LePage before stepping down to run for governor, spent the day Friday campaigning in Lewiston, beginning with a tour of the Quoddy shoe factory on Lisbon Street and ending with a fundraiser at Fuel. She also made an obligatory stop at Simones’ Hot Dog Stand.
Mayhew mostly focused on the issues that have driven her campaign, especially paring social programs, but she also questioned the way Maine selects its attorney general and how Mills has performed in the job.
Michael Ambler, Mills’ campaign manager, said, “It’s no mystery why Mary Mayhew and Paul LePage would love to have Janet out of the way — she’s stymied their attempts to strip health care from thousands of children, brought $35 million to Maine to fully fund Medicaid expansion after they claimed it was impossible, and led on the opioid crisis after they refused to take action.”
He said that “as long as Janet is attorney general, she’ll keep standing up for Maine people every day — that’s what she’s done every year she’s held the position, and that’s why she’s running for governor.”
Hayes said that she has is earning her pay as treasurer and using her own time to run for governor, adding that this isn’t the first time she’s done two jobs at the same time.
“Is it a challenge? Absolutely,” Hayes said. But “I earn my pay as the state treasurer,” she said.
Mayhew’s specific criticism of Mills and Hayes would seem odd in most states, but may resonate in Maine. It’s commonplace across the country for statewide officials such as the attorney general or state treasurer to seek the governorship.
Attorneys general are especially apt to be chosen by voters to serve as governors — mostly because they hold high-visibility posts — but Maine has rarely followed the national trend. The only attorney general in the past century to occupy the Blaine House was Joseph Brennan, who was elected in 1978.
Brennan hired Mills as a prosecutor in 1976 during his stint as attorney general and later appointed her district attorney for Androscoggin, Oxford and Franklin counties.
Maine is unusual in having only one state government official elected statewide. Its attorney general, treasurer and secretary of state are each chosen by the Legislature.
Mayhew said that Maine may want to consider changing the way it picks its constitutional officers. She said it would be better if the attorney general in particular was less partisan and more prone to lend legal expertise to the state’s chief executive.
She said Mills blocked her from hiring people with legal experience to help deal with contracts and regulations but wouldn’t provide the expertise her department needed.
Sen. Garrett Mason, a Lisbon Republican who is also running for governor, said recently he thinks it’s worth considering whether to change the system and let voters pick the attorney general or have the governor appoint one instead of leaving it to the Legislature.
He said the governor needs to have legal representation, which has been a problem between LePage and Mills.
Democratic gubernatorial contender Mark Dion, a state senator from Portland, said letting the public elect the attorney general would be a big improvement.
He said that instead of having legislators make the choice, it would be far better to give the people the power to make the decision.
Dion said that when the Legislature picks someone for the job, it’s intrinsically a “highly partisan” move and leaves the attorney general without a foundation of wide public backing.
A statewide election would make it easier for an attorney general to speak with authority as a more nonpartisan official who can articulate public policy that’s not beholden to lawmakers.
In addition, Dion said, having an elected attorney general would also offer “a good platform to develop future state leaders” that doesn’t exist in the same way now.
Mayhew said the state’s next governor needs to build on LePage’s legacy of fiscal responsibility, cutting taxes, paring regulations and trying to ease the burdens faced by Maine businesses and workers. She insisted that she’s the best candidate to carry on the mission.
She dismissed two of her Republican challengers — Mason and Rep. Ken Fredette of Newport — as legislators who have always focused on their own re-elections, rather than on the big issues facing Maine. They haven’t shown, she said, that they are “ready to make the tough decisions” and face the criticism that comes with it.
Mayhew said the other GOP hopeful, Shawn Moody, doesn’t recognize that government “is not a private-sector business.”
“It is very different from auto body repair,” Mayhew said, referring to Moody’s collision repair shops.
What she absorbed from her time in the administration, Mayhew said, is that it’s necessary to stand tall and engage in what can be a passionate debate about the direction Maine should take.
In an era of 24/7 news and sometimes mean-spirited social media, it isn’t always easy, she said, but it’s crucial to focus on priorities. She said she can do it.
“I am battle-tested,” Mayhew said. “I don’t buckle under pressure.”
She had strong words for the Democrats jostling for their party’s nomination.
Mayhew said she is “frustrated by how hypocritical they are” in their talk about how much they support small business in Maine when their party has led the charge to increase taxes and load on regulations that stifle companies trying to succeed in the Pine Tree State.
As she toured Quoddy, Mayhew told its employees that trying to help great companies like theirs is the reason she is running for governor.
“Government needs to get out of the way and out of your pockets,” Mayhew said, so that Maine can compete successfully with other states.
She thumped on the themes that made her a controversial figure in the LePage administration: forcing able-bodied people to work if they want to receive benefits such as food assistance or Medicaid.
“There’s nothing like the dignity of work,” Mayhew said, vowing to combat trends that she said “have destroyed families and taken away personal responsibility.”
She said she was raised in a Pittsfield home where she saw her mother head off to work as a nurse’s aide and her father leave each day for the factory, so she learned what it means to provide for a family. That’s missing in too many homes today, she said.
“It’s not complicated,” Mayhew said. “We’ve got to get it back.”
Mary Mayhew, right, watches Quoddy hand sewer Paul Leathers make a pair of boat shoes at the Lewiston shoe shop Friday morning. Leathers has been sewing for a number of companies since 1963. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)