Gov. Mills, US Rep. Adam Schiff headline Democratic convention

BANGOR — Gov. Janet Mills and US Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., will be among those speaking Saturday on the second and final day of the 2022 Maine Democratic Convention.

Democrats in Maine are looking to soothe divisions among progressive party members and Mills, a centrist governor, ahead of the fall elections, which are expected to be difficult for the party. While the threat to a women’s right to choose an abortion may motivate disaffected Democrats this fall, there are signs that Mills’ continued opposition to full tribal sovereignty could haunt her.

Attendees at the convention in Bangor were greeted Saturday morning by a demonstration by about two dozen people in support of tribal sovereignty, which is limited by a part of unique settlement agreements signed in 1980 that allow the state to treat tribes more like municipalities rather than sovereign nations.

Deb Paredes-Martinez, a 23-year-old climate activist from Orono, said she was demonstrating because tribal sovereignty is in the party platform, yet Mills threatened to veto a bill passed by both chambers of the Legislature that would have granted Maine tribes the same rights as the 570 other federally recognized tribes in the United States.

“We’re here calling out Democrats and Janet Mills for not supporting tribal sovereignty,” Paredes-Martinez said. “Right now, we, as youth leaders, are out here letting the Dems know, and Janet Mills, before this election year that we’re watching and we are the future leaders of tomorrow and we know tribal sovereignty is inherent and a key part of mitigating the climate crisis.”

The demonstration came a day after a group of nearly two dozen youth leaders issued a statement calling out Mills for not supporting tribal sovereignty.

“The Democrats had the power to see this bill through, but Mills did everything in her power to ensure that LD 1626 did not reach her desk, and many leaders fell in line,” the group said.

Paul Davis, 59-year-old retiree from Brewer, said he was attending the convention to show support for Mills and 2nd District US Rep. Jared Golden, who spoke Friday night. Davis said he is confident that the party will unite around Mills and turn out at the polls this fall, because in his opinion the alternative – former two-term Republican Gov. Paul LePage and a Republican-controlled Legislature – is worse.

“I am progressive and I support Janet Mills,” Davis said. “It’s a scary time and I think Gov. Mills is the person with civility, which is something we never had under Paul LePage. And leadership when it comes to reproductive rights and climate change and those things – we need a leader, and Janet is the leader.”

Democrats are looking to unify the party ahead of what are expected to be difficult elections this fall for governor and the Legislature.

US Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, urged the convention to support Mills and Golden and didn’t mention her race against Republican Ed Thelander.

But Pingree said the stakes are high this fall, with the US Supreme Court poised to overturn Roe v. Wade and Republicans looking to roll back other rights. She acknowledged frustration that Democrats haven’t been able to accomplish more in Congress over the last 18 months, but stressed the importance of Democrats maintaining control.

“Everything is at stake,” Pingree said. “We have our work cut out for us.”

Mills is expected to need the support of progressives, who have been disappointed by policy setbacks under the Democratic governor and the Democratic-controlled Legislature. But she’ll need to energize progressives without alienating independents, who make up a third of all Maine registered voters.

On Friday, the party released its new platform, which sets the vision and direction of the party. But all of the debate about the proposed amendments – roughly 30 of them seeking to add specific progressive policies – was done virtually and out of public view. That’s in contrast to the Maine Republican Party, which amended and debated its platform on the floor of its convention.

Of the two chambers, the Senate is perhaps the Republicans’ best at earning a majority.

Senate leaders promoted their slate of candidates, which they said was 60 percent women and the most diverse slate ever.

Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, said the special election in District 7, Democrat featuring Nicole Grohoski vs. Republican Brian Langley, was a must win for the party.

“We have to have it,” Jackson said. “If we win that race, it demoralizes (Republicans) and it sets the tone for November.”

This story will be updated.

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