AUGUSTA — The four female lawmakers and legislative staffer had gathered in the Cabinet Room to watch Gov. Janet Mills sign a law aimed at helping close the still-gaping pay disparity between men and women in Maine.

Mills had signed several dozen bills into law by now, most of which fit into that category of routine, even mundane measures that draw little attention beyond legislative committee rooms. Friday’s signing ceremony had additional significance, however, because of the topic and the timing.

“It’s a good bill to celebrate the first 100 days in office,” said Mills, who in January became Maine’s first female governor. “It’s a sign of progress when we are enacting legislation that addresses inequality for people living in the state and moves us forward, moves us toward better economic development for all.”

One hundred days into her term, Mills has moved expeditiously to fulfill campaign promises on such issues as Medicaid expansion, addressing the opioid crisis and embracing renewable energy. Mills has also worked with Democratic leaders in the Legislature to pass a handful of higher-priority bills for the party’s caucus, including Friday’s “pay equity” bill and a bill that aims to protect some of the core health insurance elements of the federal Affordable Care Act.

Yet she also disappointed some Mainers by embracing a controversial electricity transmission line through western Maine. And some of the biggest fights – both with Republicans and with some in her own caucus – are likely to come as lawmakers try to find common ground on spending priorities and taxes amid uncertain economic times.

“Republicans still feel the same way, that we can’t tax our way to prosperity,” said House Minority Leader Kathleen Dillingham, R-Oxford. “We need to be fiscally responsible in the budget we put forward and in the priorities we put forward.”

There is no doubt that the atmosphere in Augusta changed dramatically in January.

Legislative leaders on both sides credit Mills for setting a friendlier, more collaborative tone at the State House – for now, at least – when compared to the eight tumultuous years under a former governor who openly disdained many in the legislative branch.

“There is a change in style of management and in the belief in the institutions of government overall,” said House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, who had a famously fraught relationship with former Republican Gov. Paul LePage. “There is a respect for the people you work with. And I think that is one of the most important things that has changed.”

Part of the difference is likely attributable to the fact that the governor has spent about two decades “under the dome” — first as a co-founder of the Maine Women’s Lobby, then as a Democratic lawmaker representing Farmington and finally as Maine’s attorney general for eight years.

For her part, Mills said she will “happily talk to any members of either party, from either house.” She has also had the bipartisan leadership of the House and Senate over to the Blaine House for breakfast meetings that were “very casual with no big agenda.”

“I think it’s really important, when it comes to fashioning public policy, that the governor get involved in legislation – that we try to bring sides together and people together to fashion a result that the people of Maine will respect,” Mills said on Friday while seated in her State House office.

LePage also had a hands-on attitude toward legislation, although his involvement often came at the final stage. He claimed to read every bill that passed his desk, and he set the record – by far – for the most gubernatorial vetoes in state history.

LePage often frustrated Democrats and even some Republicans by periodically refusing to allow his commissioners or other agency staffers to testify at legislative hearings or participate in committee work sessions.

“It’s obviously a completely different mindset with the administration (regarding) the Legislature,” said Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash. “We are working together on issues. People still have disagreements, … but it’s cordial.”

Dillingham said she has only met with Mills once during a “very cordial” meeting but said her dealings with the governor’s Cabinet members have been fruitful, so far.

“Granted, philosophically, we may not be on the same page,” Dillingham said. “But they have been fine and we have been able to talk about a lot of budget issues.”

Gideon agreed.

“They are responsive and if they don’t know what the answers are, they are looking for those answers,” Gideon said.

CMP TRANSMISSION LINE

Arguably the most controversial decision Mills made during her first 100 days was to back Central Maine Power’s proposal for a 145-mile, high-voltage transmission line from Quebec to Lewiston through the western Maine mountains.

Project opponents, including many in Mills’ hometown of Farmington and in Franklin County, have accused her of ignoring their concerns by backing a “secret deal” negotiated with CMP by other parties. Opponents are now focusing on Maine Department of Environmental Protection and Land Use Planning Commission reviews of the project following last week’s decision by the Maine Public Utilities Commission granting CMP a crucial certificate.

For her part, Mills said she has “enjoyed engaging in the discussion” with project opponents in her hometown. She remains resolute in her conviction that the $1 billion project will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and bring electricity prices down throughout New England, all without costing Maine ratepayers any money because Massachusetts is paying for construction.

Mills also said that the type of hydropower that will flow along those 145 miles of transmission lines from HydroQuebec is the cleanest, most consistent form of electricity available right now.

“Unless you want to build another nuclear power plant in Maine, this is the alternative. And I haven’t heard anybody saying that they want to bring back Maine Yankee,” she added, referring to the decommissioned nuclear plant in Wiscasset.

MEDICAID EXPANSION, OPIOID CRISIS

Mills expanded Medicaid on her first full day in office, fulfilling a campaign pledge and ending a yearslong political and legal battle between LePage and Democrats, some Republicans and advocates for low-income Mainers.

“We’ve enrolled 19,000 people so far,” Mills said. “I think that’s pretty good.”

As attorney general, Mills was involved in the criminal justice side of a drug addiction crisis that has been killing more than one Mainer per day for several years. But she also waded heavily into the overdose prevention side of the crisis as well, distributing tens of thousands of kits of the overdose reversal drug naloxone, or Narcan, to police departments statewide at a time when LePage was resisting legislative attempts to make it easier for drug users or family members to acquire the drug.

After her inauguration, Mills created an Opioid Response Director position within her office, purchased an additional 35,000 doses of Narcan, lifted a two-year cap on medication-assisted treatment under MaineCare and convened her Prevention and Recovery Cabinet.

Mills has pledged greater transparency in the state’s approach to the crisis by providing more frequent and detailed information on the problem and the administration’s efforts. One possibility, Mills said, is for Maine to replicate mapping done in other states to track overdose deaths, hospital admissions, arrests and other indicators of problem areas.

It’s not easy to quantify results, Mills said, but she is hopeful Maine will soon start seeing reductions in overdose deaths, hospital admissions and individuals dropping out of the workforce because of substance use.

“All of those things will be measured along the way,” she said.

Mills has also focused on addressing climate change, another campaign priority. In her first 100 days, Mills signed policy changes long sought by the solar industry but opposed by LePage, withdrew Maine from a coalition of governors supporting offshore oil exploration, formally ended a never-enforced LePage moratorium on new wind power permits, and pledged to move Maine toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 percent by the year 2025.

BUDGET ISSUES LOOMING

“Some days it feels like only 10 days, and some days if feels like 200 days because we have accomplished so much,” Mills said.

Like all incoming Maine governors, Mills’ biggest challenge was crafting a two-year budget proposal even as she assembled her Cabinet.

Her nearly $8 billion budget, unveiled in early February, would invest an additional $126 million on K-12 education, increase municipal “revenue sharing” from 2 percent to 2.5 percent and then 3 percent, and fill hundreds of vacant positions in state government.

Mills did not propose any tax increases – fulfilling a campaign pledge but bucking some in her Democratic caucus. But the nearly $8 billion spending plan represents an 11 percent increase over the current budget and does not leave much, if any, room for error if incoming tax revenues fall short of projections.

Dillingham, the Republican leader in the Maine House, called the proposed spending levels “concerning” and said her caucus has yet to hear adequate explanations for many aspects of the budget.

“I’m hoping that as we continue this session and work through the budget, those will be presented to members of our caucus,” Dillingham said.

Maine Republican Party officials have been more critical, accusing Mills of proposing to spend “every last penny” while expanding government.

A political group formed by LePage and still closely aligned with the former governor, meanwhile, lashed out at Mills on her 100-day observance.

“In Governor Mills’s first 100 days in office, she has committed the state to hundreds of millions of dollars in new spending,” Maine People Before Politics wrote in a Twitter post. “She has committed the state to programs, like tying Maine to the Paris Climate Accords, with unknown economic costs. She has negotiated bad deals and grown state government. We believe she would be wise to heed the enduring advice of #Confucius: ‘When prosperity comes, do not use all of it.'”

Mills has, to date, largely steered clear of responding to criticisms from her predecessor or his close political allies. And she insists her door remains open to all legislators, regardless of party.

“I think it’s very important to avoid the polarization that has happened in the past, to avoid the stalemates and the lines being drawn in the sand that we see so much of in Washington,” Mills said.

The legislative leaders all agreed that, in addition to trying to work with the Mills administration, lawmakers have enjoyed largely positive relations across the political aisle as well. Dillingham said she has had a “very wonderful” working relationship with Gideon to date, while Gideon said her counterparts are all easy to work with.

“I trust them and respect them,” Gideon said.

Likewise, Jackson said he hopes – even expects – that the collaborative atmosphere will continue among lawmakers themselves and between the executive and legislative branches.

“We are going to have disagreements. We all are, and that’s OK,” Jackson said. “But it’s how you respect people and treat them during those disagreements that makes the difference for the next issue.”