Mills Looking to Lead Maine DHHS
Former State Senator and former Republican gubernatorial candidate Peter Mills has applied to be Commissioner of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and has had several discussions with Governor Paul LePage about the position.
Of the Republican candidates for governor who contested the 2010 primary along with LePage, Mills was seen to have the most in-depth knowledge of the details of Maine's legislative and government systems. He took positions to the left of LePage on a variety of issues, including health care.
Mills is not LePage's first choice for the position. The governor told the Kennebec Journal in December that he had already offered the job to a candidate who turned it down, saying that person couldn't afford the pay cut that accepting the appointment would necessitate.
The maximum salary for DHHS Commissioner is $134,139.
"I'm not in it for the money," said Mills, who says that it's the breadth and complexity of the responsibilities of the position that interest him. "I'm not going to go work for the government just for [the] sake of [a] job. It would need to be something interesting."
Mills noted that DHHS, Education and Labor were the three "significant" cabinet positions that have not yet been filled by LePage that might provide the kind of challenge he was looking for, but that DHHS would provide the biggest opportunity to influence government practice and policy.
"The department that can make or break you as governor is human services," said Mills, who noted the large amounts of money that the department oversees and the broad population that the its programs serve. "Your ability to manage that department is [the] test of whether you succeed as governor. Everything else is small potatoes."
Mills endorsed LePage's candidacy during the general election, held a fundraising event for his campaign and notes that LePage used his name on the stump, though he says he didn't go quite as far in his support as some of the other former candidates.
"I wasn't nearly as vigorous as Bruce Poliquin," said Mills. "Poliquin moved in, he had an office with the campaign and was working full time for him. It was quite interesting."
In a post last week, I noted that members of the Maine Tea Party were riled up about a rumor that Mills might be considered for the position. One declared that he was "worse than a RINO," (an epithet meaning Republican In Name Only).
Mills says he addressed the issue of possible ideological differences in his meetings with LePage and told the governor that he agrees with his objectives for the department.
"I share his perspective on what needs to be done, including tightening up eligibility and putting some teeth into the ASPIRE program," said Mills.
Mills denied a rumor that he has been offered the position of Commissioner of the Department of Education instead of DHHS.
LePage spokesperson Dan Demeritt declined to comment, saying that the administration doesn't discuss personnel issues.