Remarks of Janet T. Mills Sworn in as Maine’s 57th Attorney General
January 7, 2013
Gov. LePage, Chief Justice Saufley, President Alfond, Speaker Eves, legislators, distinguished guests, it is a honor to stand before you today and to once again take the oath of office to serve as Maine’s Attorney General.
I want to acknowledge my husband, Stan, and three of my lovely stepdaughters, Lisl, Coleen and Tammy, and three wonderful grandsons who are here today.
I am grateful and humbled by the faith that you have shown in me.
Today, I’m living proof that Maine genuinely believes in recycling!
But as I stand here, having taken this solemn oath, I’m pondering a serious question, a legal quagmire.
If in 2009 I was the first Attorney General from Franklin County, am I now the second?
If, four years ago, I was the first woman to serve as Attorney General, am I now the second as well?
I was Attorney General number 55. Now I’m number 57. That’s it. I am very grateful. And I’m ready to get to work.
Nearly a hundred years ago a man named William Robinson Pattangall took the oath to become the 34th Attorney General. A native of Pembroke and former mayor of Waterville, Pattangall had also served before. He was also number 32. It was his second time around after an unplanned vacation. Like me, life had given him another chance. And he was successful in many ways. Like Pattangall, I too have found that absence made the job grow fonder.
We’ll have to call this the “Pattangall Pattern,” a tradition of sorts. Every hundred years or so the Attorney General will take a break, come back and serve again, with renewed vigor and commitment.
Some things are better the second time around – Returning students often get higher grades. Second marriages may last longer than the first. Lawmakers who come back here look at things differently. They know that the wheel does not always have to be reinvented. And that friction keeps the wheel turning, but that too much friction can bring it to a sudden stop. Those who remember 1991 and 1992 remember what sparks flew and how putting the brakes on state government did little to move our state forward.
My time off has been interesting, my sabbatical fulfilling. For two years, as in years before, I’ve represented clients from all walks of life. I’ve litigated everything from property taxation and criminal matters to human rights cases and multi million dollar commercial disputes.
Yet I have hungered to return to a position which everyone from Steve Rowe to Frank Bellotti and Bill Clinton, from Jim Tierney to Justice David Souter have often called the “best job they ever had” – being Attorney General of their state.
And I hope my return brings more wisdom than cynicism. More insight than mere boldness or bravado.
During my time away, I have also traveled the length and breadth of Maine and talked with thousands of people in their homes and businesses, at their local diners, at Saturday night suppers and hunters’ breakfasts. I’ve heard their dreams, listened to their fears, felt their hunger for opportunity.
As we all know, opportunity and achievement are not straight lines. Some of us are blessed with second chances.
No one knows this better than our Governor, Paul Lepage. No one knows better that opportunity comes and goes – for us, and for the hardworking people of this state. And no one is more deserving of opportunity than the citizens of Maine.
As I take this office for the second time, it’s important to remember just what role the Attorney General plays in ensuring opportunity for Maine people.
The Attorney General gives guidance and advice to the executive and legislative branches and defends the state against lawsuits.
The office protects small businesses from great monopolies and fights against illegal business practices.
It protects consumers against fraud, families against domestic violence; it stands up for children and against poverty.
It helps protect the elderly from abuse.
It prosecutes homicides and protects medical privacy.
It helps preserve the legacy of Gov. Percival Baxter and the 209,000 acres of wilderness that are one of Maine’s finest natural treasures.
Most importantly, the Attorney General represents the people, not just the machinery of the state bureaucracy.
The hallmark of the Attorney General’s Office is its “Independence.”
That independence gives the Attorney General the authority – indeed the responsibility – to ensure opportunity and second chances for the people of our state.
To me, opportunity for Maine people means:
Safety in their homes. Security in their workplaces. The freedom to earn a living, to compete and survive in business and to support a family in the toughest of times. A place to rest your head at night, with fuel in the furnace, wood in the stove, clean air to breathe, water to drink, lands to till, safe food to eat. The right to grow old with proper care and financial security. The right to vote without intimidation. Freedom from discrimination and disease, addiction or unconscionable debt. Free and public learning at a public school, as provided in our Constitution. And a government, up and down the line, that treasures integrity, compassion and true transparency.
In short, the Office of the Attorney General is the guarantor of personal liberties for many, the protector of public safety for all, the face of the state, an advocate for its values, and the voice of the people before the highest courts in the land.
This means representing all the people, not one party or the other, not carrying the banner for one administration or another.
And I take that responsibility seriously.
As we begin our work, I know that we will not always agree on the course our state should take. Achieving true opportunity means disagreeing about the means. It means creating friction sometimes. It means that the wheels of democracy sometimes turn at different speeds on different tracks.
But it means debating, talking and listening to each other.
It shouldn’t be hard though. Because we are Mainers. We recognize, as Thomas Jefferson said, that “Every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle.”
We will debate solutions, programs, strategies, rules, budgets and bills. And at times those discussions will be heated.
But, we know we can succeed. We love and live in the same state. We find comfort and sport in the same woods and streams. We enjoy the noisy gaiety and busy-ness of the same cities. We watch the same big rivers muscle their way through fertile fields under big moons and marshmallow skies. We love the same majestic ridges of the rough and revered Katahdin, the long serene Bigelows, the friendly slopes of Sugarloaf and Saddleback. We work and play in the same ocean, busting up against the same independent craggy shores.
We are citizens of the same society. We have to get along.
We are the caretakers of this precious state. We have to care for it and for each other.
We live by the same light, breathe the same air, suffer under the same times of darkness.
So much brings us together, so much more than that which divides us.
So let us get down to business. Let us make the second time around the best time around. Let us make our home a state of safety and a place for second chances... not just for present company, but for every beloved citizen of the great State of Maine.