AUGUSTA — Governor-elect Janet Mills is considering elevating the Governor’s Energy Office to a Cabinet-level position, re-establishing the State Planning Office and appointing an opioid epidemic “point person” as she moves to fill her Cabinet and key positions on her executive team.

She also has promised to take a new approach to problems the state is facing relating to climate change and has said she will establish an Office of Policy Innovation to provide independent analysis to her and the Legislature on a variety of state economic, community development and natural resource issues that include increasing clean-energy production.

A spokesman for Mills said Monday that she already has begun interviewing candidates for commissioner-level positions.

“As she said when she announced the executive search committee last month, she is engaging in this process thoughtfully, deliberately and expeditiously – with the goal of naming as many commissioners as possible before she takes office,” Scott Ogden said in a prepared statement.

Mills, the state’s outgoing attorney general, announced two weeks ago that she was forming an “executive search committee” of 14 people. So far, no announcements have been made about who she has asked to be a part of the team or whether she will look to restructure Maine’s executive branch, change or add positions on the governor’s staff, or keep any of the staff or commissioners who have served under outgoing Republican Gov. Paul LePage.

“As she assembles her Cabinet, Governor-elect Mills has instructed her executive search committee to look for experienced, competent and qualified individuals who share her vision of leading Maine in a new, better direction – regardless of political affiliation,” Ogden said.

Mills intends to fill all of the existing Cabinet positions, he said. Those 15 positions oversee state government departments and agencies covering everything from public safety to marine resources.

In all of the various departments, commissioners are the top bosses for the state’s more than 10,000 workers, and they help to advance and implement the governor’s policy agenda.

Ogden said at least 1,000 people have applied for work in the Mills administration, and the executive search committee and Mills are evaluating more than 150 Cabinet-level applicants.

“Additionally, she is considering elevating the Governor’s Energy Office to a Cabinet-level position in order to help fully embrace the state’s clean-energy future and address its energy challenges,” Ogden said. “She also is interested in restoring the State Planning Office to advise on the development and effective implementation of policy across state government, to provide independent analysis on government programs, and to maintain an eye towards the future so that Maine can position itself to grow and thrive in the years to come.”

Ogden said Mills knows some of the changes she wants to make will require legislation and the consent of the Legislature. “She looks forward to gathering their input and evaluating any additional proposals they may have in mind,” Ogden said. “She has also said she plans to appoint an opioid epidemic point person to bird-dog the crisis, coordinate the state’s response across government entities, and report back on additional strategies to combat it.”

The state’s drug epidemic, in which 418 Mainers died from overdoses in 2017, shows few signs of slowing.

Beyond the 15 Cabinet members who will face confirmation hearings before the state Senate, Mills will need to appoint or reappoint nearly 600 people to boards and commissions, some of which have been vacant for months if not years. In many cases, board members are serving past the expiration of their terms, pending a new appointment, but at least 200 positions are currently vacant.

Sen. Thomas Saviello, R-Wilton

A handful of people have been mentioned in media reports as candidates for the highest-level Cabinet posts, and at least one of those individuals, state Sen. Tom Saviello, R-Wilton, said he has applied to become the next commissioner of the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Conservation.

Saviello supported Mills over her Republican rival, businessman Shawn Moody, in the 2018 election. He is a former environmental manager for the Verso paper mill in Jay and has served eight years in the Senate, including as chairman of the Legislature’s Committee on the Environment and Natural Resources. He also sits on the Legislature’s Agriculture, Forestry and Conservation and Government Oversight committees.

Mike Michaud

The names of other lawmakers or former lawmakers and members of both the Republican and Democratic parties that have been circulating in the media include former congressman Mike Michaud, a Democrat from East Millinocket who left his congressional seat to make an unsuccessful run for governor in 2014.

Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook

Others reportedly in the mix include state Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, for the position of health and human services commissioner and Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap for Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife commissioner.

Gattine declined to comment Monday and referred questions to the transition team. Dunlap, in a text message, called the speculation that he wanted to head IFW “more wild rumor than not.”

Mills also will have to hire at least a dozen people to serve in the governor’s office. Currently, LePage has 19 staff members in his office, ranging from a chief of staff to a press secretary and communications director. It is unlikely that Mills will keep any of LePage’s current staff members.

Mills has made only one announcement on her direct staff, naming Jeremy Kennedy as her incoming chief of staff.

Although many of the appointments that Mills makes will need to be confirmed by the Senate, hundreds of others are considered personal under state law and require no confirmation process.

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

[email protected]

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