What Mary Mayhew and Wonder Woman have in common

Grossing over $100 million in the U.S. last weekend, “Wonder Woman” made quite a splash.  And although I haven’t seen it, after reading the plot, it isn’t hard to understand why; a legendary superhero — who happens to be female — overcomes tall odds, fights with friends-turned-enemies, and (spoiler alert!) ultimately triumphs and remains on guard in the modern day.

Off the silver screen and back in Maine, another woman made a splash this week: Mary Mayhew. The first big name to jump into the Republican primary race for the Blaine House, she also walked a unique path to this point.

A former Democrat, she led Pat McGowan’s 1990 House campaign against Olympia Snowe. She had worked for Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, and even served as an aide to a Democratic congressman. Then, after an interlude working for Maine’s hospitals, she took a job with — wait for it — Paul LePage.

Yes.  That Paul LePage.

She spent approximately a month as an advisor in the governor’s office, and then was nominated — and confirmed by the Legislature — as the commissioner of health and human services. In 2012, during LePage’s State of the State address, she received a standing ovation from both sides of the aisle in the House Chamber as the governor praised her leadership and grace. Yet, ultimately, many of those former friends turned into enemies.

The vitriol directed at her both before and after the announcement was swift and unrelenting. Editorials attacked her, commentators from the left offered a bevy of grievances, and she is even the proud new owner of a “cease-and-desist” letter from the Portland Press Herald. Maine Democrats and their affiliated groups were quick to issue press releases and try to incite activists against her.

Some of that rhetoric has gone a bit far. No, neither Mayhew nor any other reasonable Republican wants children to go hungry, people to lose health care, or addicts to die. There just might be disagreement on the best way to address those ills. Just like there might be disagreement on the proper laws surrounding tips, yet Democratic Sen. Bill Diamond was receiving messages on this topic from angry individuals that were so bad that he rushed home to delete them before his “grandchildren would hear what was left.

But, as we enter the campaign season, we will get to hear from Mayhew directly. We’re able to have debates about the tip credit, about the tax code, and about education funding because of her efforts.

In 2011, as the LePage Administration came into office, the state budget was a mess. Maine’s hospitals — major employers in their communities — held hundreds of millions of dollars in IOUs from the state. Gimmicks, such as “furlough days” shutting down state government, were used to eek out extra dollars to feed the MaineCare budget. And like clockwork, every January brought the need to pass a supplemental budget in Augusta because the Department of Health and Human Services was running out of money.

Today, the state is current on all its bills, employees can expect to work a full week and receive a full week’s pay, and we can have heated debates on real policy issues, like income tax rates. That is all possible because of Mayhew’s efforts to right the DHHS ship.

Her detractors seem to confuse perfection with progress. Because there is still need in the state, they attack her. But that misses the forest for the trees.

With a state budget in the black, the idea of “welfare reform” can advance to its next stage. It means really engaging across government to ensure we eliminate roadblocks to employment, like the “cliff” waiting for individuals who get a job and earn “too much” to receive assistance. They are rational people; it is financially advantageous to work less and maintain benefits. That is a big, broken aspect of the welfare system, and it needs to be fixed. We need to cut the Gordian knot.

The old saying that “the best welfare program is a job” rings true. Continued economic growth is the best prescription to address the still-existing need in Maine, whether through individual opportunity or increased resources. For that growth to occur, we need clear, level-headed leadership making decisions from positions of stability, not jumping from one budgetary crisis to another.

So, like Diana Prince, aka Wonder Woman, will Mayhew ultimately prevail in her quest to take up the mantle of leadership? Over the coming months, voters will decide and we will have an answer. But, my advice is this: Be they good or bad, ignore all the editorials, commentators, and press releases. Find out when Mayhew is coming to your town and, with an open mind, listen to her in person. You will learn what I already know: she is a wonderful woman. And she might just be our first female governor.

Michael Cianchette

About Michael Cianchette

Michael Cianchette was the chief counsel to Gov. Paul LePage from 2012-2013 and deputy counsel from 2011-2012. A Navy reservist, he was deployed to Afghanistan from 2013-2014 as a trainer and adviser to the Afghan National Police. He is an alumnus of the Leadership Maine program and holds a BA in economics and political science from Boston College along with a JD and an MBA from Suffolk University. He works as in-house counsel and financial manager for a number of affiliated companies in southern Maine.