After leading Maine’s effort to overhaul its welfare programs, former Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew is taking aim at the state’s highest office.

In morning radio interviews Tuesday, Mayhew declared her intention to seek the Republican nomination for governor in 2018.

Mayhew, the most widely known of the handful of contenders who have jumped into the race so far, would be the state’s first female governor.

Though she plans to make a formal announcement at a Tuesday morning Lisbon press conference, Mayhew told radio interviewers that she wants to build on her accomplishments by succeeding GOP Gov. Paul LePage, who is in his second term and can’t legally run again.

“I am going to stand tall and defend what we’ve done, protect the foundation that we’ve built and pursue a plan to capitalize on that foundation to grow jobs so that we can have a successful economy in this state,” she told Portland station WGAN.

“We have worked too hard to see what we have done undone,” Mayhew said.

Mayhew, 52, said she faced “a difficult decision” when she opted to step down as commissioner, a move that Democrats sharply criticized.

But, she said, she wants to fight the attitude that Maine can do nothing more than “bounce along at the bottom” rather than prospering behind a resurgence in individual initiative.

“I believe in the future of this state,” Mayhew said. Its success, she said, depends “on getting government out of the way.”

In a talk with the Lewiston-Auburn Rotary Club recently, Mayhew talked about what she views as a successful six-year effort to turn around a department that had been “a perpetual financial disaster.”

She said it had lunged from crisis to crisis for years, constantly shedding cash and failing to ensure that the most vulnerable Mainers got the care they needed. It was incessantly in “panic mode,” the commissioner said.

“We had to make the tough decisions to get our financial house in order,” Mayhew said.Within four years, they’d slashed enrollment in the program by 24 percent, she said, and stabilized its spending.

Though conservatives hailed her accomplishments, Democrats were less enchanted.

When Mayhew resigned as commissioner, Rep. Patty Hymanson, D-York, said that under her leadership the department “failed to invest in Maine’s future and operated under the belief that people can be punished out of poverty.”

Maine Democratic Party Chairman Phil Bartlett recently blasted Mayhew for “walking out on her job in the middle of a critical budget negotiation,” putting her “her political ambitions over the well-being of Maine’s people.”

But Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn, who co-chairs the Health and Human Services Committee, said he has been “consistently impressed with Mary Mayhew’s ability to make the tough decisions.”

“We have seen in past administrations how easy it is to mismanage taxpayer resources by promising government that seeks to be all things to all people,” said Brakey, who is running for a U.S. Senate seat next year. He said Mayhew has instead “taken the more difficult road less traveled: protecting Maine taxpayers by focusing limited resources on core priorities.”

Independent Maine State Treasurer Terry Hayes of Buckfield and Democrats Adam Cote of Sanford and Betsy Sweet of Hallowell are the only other declared 2018 gubernatorial candidates who are well-known in political circles. Republican Deril Stubenrod of Clinton, Democrat Patrick Eisenhart of Augusta and Libertarian Richard Light of Liberty have also filed.

Information from the Bangor Daily News was used in this story. This story will be updated.

Former Maine Health and Human Commissioner Mary Mayhew arrives at Dingley Press to announce she’s running for governor, Tuesday, June 6, 2017, in Lisbon, Maine. She vowed to fight a defeatist attitude in state government and to continue changes she helped implement in the administration of Republican Gov. Paul LePage. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

Former Maine Health and Human Commissioner Mary Mayhew speaks to workers at Dingley Press as she announces her bid for governor, Tuesday, June 6, 2017, in Lisbon, Maine. She vowed to fight a defeatist attitude in state government and to continue changes she helped implement in the administration of Republican Gov. Paul LePage. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

Former Maine Health and Human Commissioner Mary Mayhew, seen at left in a factory mirror, speaks to workers at Dingley Press as she announces her bid for governor, Tuesday, June 6, 2017, in Lisbon, Maine. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

Doug Viens, a forklift driver at Dingley Press, foreground, and fellow workers listen as former Maine Health and Human Commissioner Mary Mayhew announces her bid for governor, Tuesday, June 6, 2017, in Lisbon, Maine. The former-Democrat-turned-Republican said that she has worked on behalf of Gov. Paul LePage to get the state’s finances in order and to implement welfare reforms that are getting people back to work. She said she wants Mainers to keep more of their money. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

Former Maine Health and Human Commissioner Mary Mayhew speaks to a worker at Dingley Press as she announces her bid for governor, Tuesday, June 6, 2017, in Lisbon, Maine. She vowed to fight a defeatist attitude in state government and to continue changes she helped implement in the administration of Republican Gov. Paul LePage. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

Former Maine Health and Human Commissioner Mary Mayhew speaks to a worker at Dingley Press as she announces her bid for governor, Tuesday, June 6, 2017, in Lisbon, Maine. She vowed to fight a defeatist attitude in state government and to continue changes she helped implement in the administration of Republican Gov. Paul LePage. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

Former Maine Health and Human Commissioner Mary Mayhew announces her bid for governor, Tuesday, June 6, 2017, in Lisbon, Maine. She vowed to fight a defeatist attitude in state government and to continue changes she helped implement in the administration of Republican Gov. Paul LePage. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

Former Maine Health and Human Commissioner Mary Mayhew speaks to workers at Dingley Press as she announces her bid for governor, Tuesday, June 6, 2017, in Lisbon, Maine. She vowed to fight a defeatist attitude in state government and to continue changes she helped implement in the administration of Republican Gov. Paul LePage. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)


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