WASHINGTON D.C. – Governor Janet Mills played follow the leader with other Governors from across the US in calling for “normalcy” at a meeting of the National Governor’s Association this week. The Bangor Daily News reports that ahead of Mills’ election showdown with former Governor Paul LePage, Mills has found an interest in trying to keep schools open and make sure parents can go back to work.
But even into the middle of 2021, Mills would brag about imposing some of the more restrictive edicts in the nation. An official statement from Mills’ office touted her health care vaccine mandate as one of the most “aggressive” in the nation for both scope and time frame.
The backdrop Mills’ policy shift is set against is dark, even for a Maine winter. The consequences of those policies and mandates have been dire on many fronts.
Maine’s overdose death rate has spiked over the last two years to all-time highs, a consequence predicted by many when Mills’ original covid orders went into effect, shuttering treatment centers and substance abuse counseling offices. Maine topped 600 overdose deaths for the first time in 2021. (Maine Public, January 18, 2022)
Maine’s students are suffering both from deficits due to lack of instruction and a mental health crisis so severe that state lawmakers are working on passing bills and re-imagining our system to come to the rescue of the crush of young (and older) Mainers facing mental health crises. (Maine Public, October 22, 2021 & Kennebec Journal Nov 30, 2021)
Many small businesses have closed, costing tens of thousands of Mainers their jobs and creating tectonic shifts in some sectors of Maine’s economy – shifts detrimental to those workers Mills and her party purport to represent.
And of course, Maine’s health care system is facing what is could quickly become a once-in-a-generation crisis. Already facing shortages across the industry before the pandemic, Mills’ vaccine mandate and burn out from overburdened health care workers who have stood in the breach to protect their patients are bleeding Maine’s health care infrastructure. It is so undeniable that Mills has scrambled to slap a band-aid on the wound. Her new $14 million training program, however, won’t produce any new workers immediately, thus reducing it to a political talking point in relation to the current crisis. (Spectrum News, October 25, 2021)
Further illustrating the problems Mills has in Maine’s hospitals, some Covid-positive workers have been allowed to return to work and waves of National Guard have been brought in alongside special federal teams to ease the burden from loss of so many workers.
LePage, for his part, has been calling for schools to stay open and a more balanced approach since the early days of the pandemic. That contrast is likely to make Mills’ approach seem too little, too late to many who have felt the pain of big government restrictions as severely as they felt the pandemic.
For many, the pain of school closures and hits to Maine’s health care and nursing homes, or the damage to their loved ones with mental health or substance abuse issues will outlive this pandemic and the political careers of anyone on the ballot in 2022.
What remains to be seen is if Governor Janet Mills can convince Mainers that her sense of the timing of her own version of this return to “normalcy” was so much more correct than their own.
To follow that act, Mills will have to convince those same Mainers that the sacrifices they and their loved ones made were worth the price they paid when Mills imposed increasingly painful mandates and restrictions on them to gain the veneration of her narrow political base.