AUGUSTA – When Governor Janet Mills announced a new state mandate that all Mainers would be required to wear face masks in many public places, she also announced that the state would “lead by example” in buying thousands of face masks for state employees. Gov. Mills didn’t disclose the cost of the purchase of those face masks but some research into the deal has revealed that the purchase is from a business owned by a former Democrat political operative.
On April 29th the press release from Governor Mills’ office said, “Additionally, and to lead by example, the Mills Administration has partnered with Westbrook-based company American Roots to purchase and provide two cloth face coverings for every State of Maine employee.”
A call placed to American Roots revealed that the company sells the face masks for $6.75 each and an inquiry about bulk orders of larger quantities indicated that for orders for more than 100 masks, there was no discount offered. No information was available on possible discounts for the kind of quantity purchased by the state of Maine.
The release from Mills quotes American Roots co-owner Ben Waxman, along with his wife Whitney Reynolds Waxman, are quoted saying, “As our state gradually reopens, we’re proud to display our commitment to worker safety, that we ourselves, as a proud Union workforce, take enormous pride in. We want to thank Governor Mills for believing in our company and its workforce, which we believe is the new face of the American worker.”
Waxman has given presentations and interviews in various media outlets about his approach to the business, most notably that American Roots relies on a system of training immigrants, or as he calls them, New Mainers, to do the stitching and work required to produce American Roots products. That training system includes community-based training programs.
A 2017 report from Maine Bizreveals that Waxman is a longtime Democrat political operative who also worked closely with AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.
“Waxman, raised in Portland, dropped out of college to work for Democratic campaigns throughout the Northeast, then worked for the AFL-CIO in Washington, D.C. After 12 years, he left his position as assistant to the federation’s president, Richard Trumka, because he wanted to return to Maine,” says the Maine Biz article.
“State employees whose roles require other types of personal protective equipment will also receive these cloth face coverings. The Department of Administrative and Financial Services is also distributing a supply of disposable masks to staff who work outside the home and/or interact with others as part of their job duties,” says the press release from Governor Mills.
Waxman also penned an op-ed in the Washington Post on April 15th telling the story of American Roots making protective gear and suggesting that the federal government was lacking leadership.
A review of the face masks promoted by American Roots on their Facebook page shows one mask emblazoned with a “Union Yes” logo next to a large checkmark.
Reviews of the American Roots products on social media and internet review platforms suggest their products are very high quality and often receive top ratings.
Mills has repeatedly stressed that many state workers are working from home amid the pandemic. The announcement did not lay out how the state plans to distribute the masks to employees who are spread across the state as they work from home.
While distribution is unclear one thing is for certain, when the masks for state workers do arrive, they will be double lined American Roots face masks.
Governor Mills is encouraging Maine people to make their own cloth face masks or purchase them from Maine small businesses in order to comply with her order. Many Mainers have spoken out against the mandate, with some Maine police departments suggesting they are not equipped or willing to try to enforce the Governor’s mandate.
A review of the state’s notices of intent to waive the competitive bidding process and request for proposals website did not yield any information on the transaction. Only one COVID-19 face mask notice was publicly posted on the state website and that notice was related to a purchase for surgical masks for Riverview Psychiatric.