Flip through the register of the Maine House of Representatives and Maine Senate and see what our elected officials state as occupations. Most are retirees, educators, small-business owners, “consultants,” foresters and farmers, medical professionals and lawyers.

Just a handful, though, are millworkers.

One fewer now, with the resignation of Rep. Randy Hotham, R-Dixfield, an employee at NewPage in Rumford, which leaves Rep. John Patrick, D-Rumford, Sen. Bruce Bryant, D-Dixfield and Rep. Ray Pineau, D-Jay as the only millworkers left in the Legislature. (Rep. Ken Fletcher, R-Winslow, does say he’s a “pulp and paper consultant.”)

Bryant and Patrick, as union workers at NewPage, are now subject to an agreement stipulating unpaid leave for legislative service. Bryant, with one term left before term limits, laments the new deal. Hotham is a salaried employee, and his resignation was a mutual decision between him and NewPage, to ensure all employees equal treatment.

In explaining his decision, Hotham referenced changing times in the paper industry.

Times are certainly changing, when mills and millworkers disengage from public service.

For generations, paper mills have churned out pulp and politicians from areas like Jay, Livermore, and Rumford, where millworker politicians represented the interests of their millworker community. Some still do.

This district’s congressman, Rep. Mike Michaud, is a millworker, and a former state senator before then. He’s amplified the millworker voice on Capitol Hill, as a critic of trade policies he believes could harm American manufacturers. When he speaks, he speaks for industry and for Maine’s millworkers.

It’s been awhile, though, since when it was widely thought mills dictated policy for Augusta. “They were the kings of the hill,” former Senate president Charles Pray said in 2002. “They had money and nothing but the best lobbyists.”

Maine crossed its once open arms toward paper over the decades. Welcoming Republicans were replaced by more skeptical Democrats. Forestland became managed, and environmental protection came into vogue.

And not just political and regulatory landscapes changed – so did the names. Boise-Cascade, Mead, NewPage. International Paper, Verso. Upper-echelon decisions about the mills moved away. Lately, there’s industry concern about an aging workforce, and weak youthful recruitment for the mills.

Then there’s the question of conflicting interests, underscored by another millworker/legislator – independent Rep. Tom Saviello of Wilton – who faced controversy surrounding discharge permits for his employer, Verso, and lackadaisical enforcement by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. Saviello was cleared of ethical miscues, but the investigation renewed attention on the political power paper mills wield in Augusta.

Paper still speaks, but not as loudly. NewPage’s decision to discontinue supporting lawmakers from among its ranks indicates a disinterest in the political sphere. Besides, lawyers and lobbyists speak for the mills when necessary.

Yet interests of the mills as businesses don’t always parallel the community’s needs. For years, millworkers were supported for political service to represent the concerns of milltowns.

Now, around Rumford at least, it’s somebody else’s job.


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