Governor Janet Mills issued her first executive order on January 3, 2019, the day after she was inaugurated. It was An Order to Require the Expeditious Implementation of the MaineCare Expansion.
That order is typical of the “first 100 days,” “let’s get to it” stuff of which politics is made. The Governor campaigned on the expansion of Medicaid and made it clear that she intended to make it happen on her first day in office. The next dozen executive orders continued the implementation of her policy priorities and creation of the infrastructure necessary to support them.
Fourteen months later, on March 18, 2020, she issued Executive Order 14, An Order to Protect Public Health. It was the first of her orders to deal with the coronavirus pandemic that has consumed her administration ever since. The order regulated “certain gatherings” to 10 people or less and closed dine-in services at restaurants and bars. It was set to expire two weeks later on March 31.
Almost a year after, here we still are. Executive Order 14 was only the first of many executive orders initiated or renewed since then. From that day on, for the rest of fiscal year 19/20 (ending June 30, 2020), the Governor issued 43 more executive orders. Every single one addressed COVID-19.
Deadlines were altered, licensing requirements suspended, the June 2020 election was moved to July 14 and election protocols were altered to maintain restrictions on public gatherings. Eligibility for children’s homeless shelters, admissions to the Department of Corrections and eviction procedures were revised. Veterinary care, fire burn permits, watercraft laws, expired optometric lens prescriptions and the elver fishery all had to be reconsidered in light of a rapidly spreading lethal disease.
Every one of these changes in response to the pandemic took countless hours of time and resources as the state bureaucracy tried to keep up with the ever-evolving situation and get the emergency measures right. Through it all, the Governor received a constant barrage of criticism for doing too much or too little, acting too quickly or too slowly.
Fiscal year 21 (which ends June 30, 2021) brought no relief. Of the 29 executive orders issued by the Governor as of last week, 26 of them were COVID-related. The pandemic has taken over every facet of our lives.
Perhaps it is a sign of hope that this January three executive orders were issued unrelated to COVID, the first orders that do not begin with “Whereas, I proclaimed a state of emergency on March 15, 2020…” Are they the first stirrings of a return to normalcy? Executive Order 24 established a task force to create a forest carbon program. Executive Order 25 established a state Cybersecurity Council.
But Executive Order 28, though not COVID-related, shows just how much our country has changed since the start of the pandemic. The coronavirus was not the only virus to bring the country to its knees this past year.
As we approach the half-million mark of deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S., there are still people who do not believe it exists. There are still people who refuse to adopt the simplest yet most effective measures to prevent its spread. Were it not for large parts of our population refusing basic precautions, we could be done with this by now, as other countries are.
People are actually fighting, physically fighting, over wearing face coverings. Families are ruptured, communities destroyed, businesses ruined, all in the name of an idea of freedom that was certainly never intended by our founders. Somehow this idea of freedom seems commingled with the other pandemic – the virus of disrespect.
We have collectively decided that we have a right to say or do anything we want. We have invalidated our authority figures and taken our government, the manifestation of our self-restraint, and rendered it impotent.
Now we have Executive Order 28, Activating the Maine National Guard as a Precautionary Measure to Protect the State House and Capitol Grounds. The order was issued on Jan. 15 on the advice of the FBI who warned states “to be prepared for possible armed protests and civil unrest at state capitols across the country preceding and during the inauguration of the President-Elect of the United States…” Really. It says that.
It is heartbreaking to read that executive order and acknowledge that, in light of what happened in Washington, D.C., on January 6, it was prudent. Horrifying, but prudent. Necessary. What is wrong with us?
There are 54,000 of us in Hancock County, spread out thinly over some of the most beautiful geography on the planet. Do we really want to poison it with hatred? Our communities will be what we make them. For our kids’ sake, if not for ours, can we just calm down?
Jill Goldthwait worked for 25 years as a registered nurse at Mount Desert Island Hospital. She has served as a Bar Harbor town councilor and as an independent state senator from Hancock County.