AUGUSTA — While lawmakers secretly cast their ballots for Maine attorney general this week, Republican Gov. Paul LePage hasn’t been secret about his desire to get rid of Democrat Janet Mills.

Mills’ re-election by the Legislature on Wednesday over LePage’s objections set the stage for two more combative years between the state’s top lawyer and the governor, who have clashed frequently and publicly over issues including Medicaid, welfare and now immigration.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Mills said that, overall, her office has worked productively with LePage but that she also has an obligation to stand up for what she believes is the public’s interest – even if that means going against the administration.

“I represent the state, not the individual who happens to be the chief executive,” said Mills, who has had a varied career as a prosecutor, a lawmaker and a private lawyer and became the state’s first female attorney general in 2009.

She has butted heads with LePage over his efforts to remove thousands of young adults from Maine’s welfare rolls and prevent municipalities from giving welfare benefits to some immigrants, forcing his administration to seek private lawyers in cases in which the attorney general would normally represent the state.

Most recently, LePage went it alone this week when he signed on to a multistate lawsuit over President Obama’s executive actions on immigration. Mills said she wasn’t approached by the governor’s office about the lawsuit before it was filed. She said she hasn’t studied the lawsuit thoroughly but “at first blush (it) smacks more of a press release than a legal document.”

LePage’s spokeswoman did not respond Friday to a request for comment for this story.

The governor had urged lawmakers to elect a new attorney general and even suggested one of his opponents in the November election, Eliot Cutler, as a replacement. He expressed frustration that Mills holds “veto power over the executive branch,” saying she has blocked his administration from moving forward on many of its priorities.

Even with the disagreements, Mills stressed that her office is representing the state on nearly 7,000 matters and pointed out that she also differed with former Democratic Gov. John Baldacci during her first term.

Clashes between governors and attorneys general aren’t unusual in other states but haven’t been as common in Maine, said Jim Melcher, a political science professor with the University of Maine at Farmington. But he said LePage has approached his policies and job “in a different way than any governor we have had in Maine in a really long time.”

“The governor is certainly not someone who shies away from a fight, and Janet Mills isn’t either,” he said. “I think they’re both going to tend to stick to their guns.”

Among Mills’ top priorities for next session is to continue her work in domestic violence prevention, an issue LePage has championed. Mills said there are good laws in place but there needs to be more education and public awareness around the issue.

“It’s a matter of how to enforce (the laws) and how to get the message out, to particularly young boys growing up in these communities and these families where there is abuse,” she said. “It’s what they see, and it’s what they end up mimicking.”

She said she won the support of Democrats, Republicans and independents in the House and Senate this week because her office has proved it can prosecute homicides and drug crimes and recoup millions of dollars in settlements for the state.

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