Nina Milliken, a Blue Hill Democrat running for House District 16, is quick to admit she “might be nuts.” She has three young children, one quite teensy. It was a talk with former representative Genevieve McDonald, a mother of twin babies when she was first elected, that convinced Milliken to go for it.
Though she may be a first-time candidate, there is much in her background that has prepared her for the Legislature should she be elected. She has lived the challenges she describes as most pressing in her area: child care, affordable housing and the growing impact of rental properties on year-round housing opportunities, especially for coastal communities.
Since the pandemic, she says, more people have moved to the area with the intention of staying year-round. That has a positive impact in many ways but also requires adjustment by the locals. Milliken herself has lived in Blue Hill year-round for about a decade but has family connections and a personal history there for much longer. The Blue Hill village looks quite like it did 40 years ago but with a lot more cars.
Both Milliken and her Republican challenger, Steve Hanrahan, are aware of the distinctions made between “locals” and “people from away.” It is less of a bright line than it used to be, but it’s still there. Milliken feels that strengthening community is essential to addressing social problems.
Milliken does not just think about these community problems in the abstract. She has data, lots of data, and can readily spill it out as she discusses the aging population, education challenges and other issues on the minds of residents of Castine, Sedgwick, Brooksville, Blue Hill, Surry and Trenton.
Trenton was one of the few contested changes in last year’s redistricting process. Maine law requires that electoral districts be contiguous, which Trenton is, says Milliken, “if you take away the water.” By land, it requires a drive through Ellsworth to reach the easternmost town in District 16.
Milliken has a good background for legislative service. Sitting in her screened porch, baby asleep and older kids in the care of a neighboring teenager, the tranquil surroundings and Milliken’s ready smile alternate with flashes of deep purpose and determination. She describes her work with Healthy Acadia and the George Stevens Academy to secure a supply of Narcan for managing drug overdoses, citing 300 doses obtained and 68 people trained in its use. She would like to see it readily available throughout the community for rapid response to an overdose crisis.
Milliken says public education “is my realm.” She has a teaching certificate from College of the Atlantic and works part time at the Blue Hill Harbor School. She was elected to the Blue Hill School Board in 2021. She describes herself as “opinionated but compassionate.” She particularly likes working with adolescents.
She was a community educator and a victim advocate at Downeast Sexual Assault Services, a position in which she coordinated services between her agency and schools in Washington and Hancock counties. She already has her eye on opportunities in the Legislature to support young people, strengthen the social infrastructure and expand day care opportunities.
Her interest in mental health issues centers on making it easier for people to navigate the care network, and to cope with and find more treatment opportunities for substance addictions. She also wants to see improvements in the community response to mental health crises and thinks that statewide, more treatment capacity must be developed. She believes that connecting people to appropriate services is key to thriving communities.
She sees herself as “socially connected” in most communities in District 16 but is getting out and about to meet more voters. She hosts “Coffee with the Candidate” periodically (notices are on her Facebook page) and is happy to meet with people anywhere in the district to talk about whatever is on voters’ minds.
Milliken and her family are active outdoors people who enjoy hiking and camping. She has introduced her children to volunteering on conserved lands in the area from an early age. She has been a cook at a local restaurant.
Her experience has given her insight into Maine from a variety of perspectives and has developed her skills in networking throughout coastal Hancock County and beyond, an essential advantage for a legislator. There will be opportunities to see the two District 16 candidates in several forums, including in a League of Women Voters Zoom conversation in mid-October. Check the LWV website for specifics.
This will be an interesting contest. The candidates have clear philosophical differences but share similar convictions about life in rural Maine and the role a legislator should play in rural communities. Don’t sit on the sidelines. Get out and vote.
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.