Mary Mayhew announces her run for governor Tuesday at Dingley Press in Lisbon. She said she wants to “fight for you to be able to keep what you earn in your pockets.” Staff photos by Derek Davis

LISBON — Former Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew announced her campaign for governor in aggressive terms Tuesday. Saying she would fight for Maine, Mayhew even took a jab at Sen. Susan Collins, a potential rival for the Republican nomination who recently expressed her support for a form of Medicaid expansion.

Mayhew addressed a group of workers and a gaggle of reporters during a news conference at Dingley Press in the Androscoggin County town of Lisbon, saying she is running to continue the work she and Gov. Paul LePage started, including reforming welfare programs and improving Maine’s economy. LePage, a Republican, will complete his second and final term in 2018.

Mayhew wasted no time in going on the offensive against Collins, a popular U.S. senator widely regarded as the prohibitive favorite to win the Republican nomination if she decides to run for the Blaine House. In news interviews about health care Sunday and Monday, Collins suggested a Medicaid expansion model used in Indiana could work in Maine as well.

Mayhew, who has repeatedly echoed LePage’s criticisms of Medicaid expansion, pounced on Collins’ statements.

“It is concerning to me that she would come out and endorse a plan without understanding the challenges of our state budget,” Mayhew said. “The impact of the cost of expanding Medicaid and what that will jeopardize in terms of our priorities.”


Hear Mary Mayhew on WVOM:

Mayhew said that under her leadership, the LePage administration prioritized supporting the elderly and the disabled in Maine. “If we expand Medicaid, our efforts to support our most vulnerable will absolutely be set aside,” Mayhew said.

She said efforts to reduce waiting lists for services would not be sustainable if “able-bodied adults” were “put at the front of the line at Medicaid.”

Collins’ office did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

Maine has never elected a woman as its governor.

Mary Mayhew talks with reporters after announcing her run for governor at Dingley Press on Tuesday. Staff photo by Derek Davis

Standing on the elevated landing of a stairway on the Dingley factory floor, Mayhew got a round of applause from about 100 workers who silenced their presses while she announced her plans and said she would work for their prosperity.

“The answer is for us to fight for you to be able to keep what you earn in your pockets,” Mayhew said. She spoke about her family’s modest economic background, including a father who was a factory foreman and a mother who was a nurse’s aide.

Mayhew said she often spent Saturdays with her father at his job at Edwards Manufacturing in Pittsfield, which made smoke and fire detection equipment before closing in 2014. “So I love being here. It reminds me of being back with my dad,” she said.

She noted that she worked in a shock absorber plant during college, so she appreciated being on the factory floor.

FORMER DEMOCRAT AND LOBBYIST

Mayhew, 52, is married to Ron Reed, who owns an antiques business, and lives in China. She is the mother of two sons – Cameron, who recently graduated college, and Chance, 17. They both joined her for the announcement Tuesday. A former Democrat, Mayhew is a graduate of the University of Arkansas.

She worked for a Democratic congressman when she was younger before returning to Maine in 1990. She previously worked as a lobbyist for the Maine Hospital Association, a trade group representing the state’s 39 hospitals.

Mayhew first revealed her decision to run for governor during an early morning call-in appearance on the Bangor-based WVOM talk radio show hosted by George Hale and Ric Tyler.

“We have worked too hard to see all we have done undone,” Mayhew said in announcing her candidacy. “We need bold leadership and someone who is prepared to make difficult decisions in the best interests of this state.”

Mayhew’s announcement drew swift and sharp criticism from state and national Democrats.

“A vote for Mary Mayhew is a vote for a third term of Paul LePage’s disastrous agenda,” Jared Leopold, communications director for the Democratic Governor’s Association, said in a prepared statement. “Mary Mayhew’s record as DHHS commissioner is clear: She blocked Medicaid expansion, cut funding for mental health treatment and refused funding for opioid treatment – all to prove a political point.”

As health and human services commissioner, Mary Mayhew was at the forefront of Gov. Paul LePage’s effort to revamp benefit programs used by thousands of poor Mainers. Staff photo by Joe Phelan

Maine Democratic Party Chairman Phil Bartlett criticized Mayhew’s tenure at DHHS.

“Her failed approach drove up rates of child poverty and caused suffering for countless Mainers,” Bartlett said in a prepared statement. “To people like Mary Mayhew, ‘accountability’ and ‘fiscal responsibility’ are just buzzwords – used to pit Mainers against each other and justify throwing children, working people and the elderly under the bus.”

FOREFRONT OF WELFARE REFORMS

Mayhew, whom LePage hired to run the Department of Health and Human Services in 2011, is largely known for spending more than six years leading the governor’s push to reform Maine’s public safety net.

She resigned from DHHS in late May. She didn’t announce her plans at the time, but speculation that she would seek to become LePage’s successor has been circulating for at least three years.

Mayhew is the first prominent Republican to announce her candidacy, but may face significant challenges from others in the party, particularly Collins, who has said she is considering running.

As head of the state’s largest agency, Mayhew was at the forefront of LePage’s bid to revamp programs that affect thousands of Mainers, including efforts to tighten requirements for Medicaid enrollees, re-establish work requirements for food stamps, clamp down on welfare fraud, and advocate for other changes, such as forbidding junk food purchases with food stamps.

LePage has lavished praise on Mayhew for bringing spending in the department under control while building up a surplus of revenue from federal benefit programs such as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families. Mayhew also ushered in the use of voluntary photos on electronic benefit cards, the bank-like cards used by welfare recipients to access both cash and food benefits like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP, formerly known as food stamps.

SNAP is another program that Mayhew pushed to overhaul, including increasing job training, volunteer and work requirements for adult recipients who are not elderly or disabled.

LARGE FIELD SEEKING GOVERNORSHIP

Mayhew’s critics have said the focus on welfare changes has left thousands more children facing extreme poverty and hunger, while her supporters say she has helped lift the living standards and incomes of thousands who had been dependent on the state for support.

“There are so many hard-working people in this state who get up every day, go to work, are proud of what they are doing,” Mayhew said. “They are contributing to their families, their communities and to this state, and I am determined to continue to help supporting them by getting government out of the way and allowing these hard-working Mainers to keep more of their hard-earned money in their pocket.”

Mayhew is the seventh declared candidate in what is expected to be a large field that includes State Treasurer Teresa Hayes, an independent who recently clashed with LePage over delays in construction bonding.

Also running are Republican Deril Stubenrod of Clinton; Libertarian Richard Light, an Army veteran; and three Democrats – Betsy Sweet, a progressive activist and lobbyist, Patrick Eisenhart, a military retiree, and Portland lawyer and Army veteran Adam Cote.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 791-6330 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: thisdog