DC Notebook

February 16, 2013

Speculation swirls over Karen Mills' run for governor in 2014

Snowe not interested in Obama Cabinet job, but does back Fix the Debt Campaign; Mainers to join Forward on Climate rally

By Kevin Miller kmiller@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- It didn't take long for the speculation to begin after Karen Mills -- a Maine resident who serves in President Barack Obama's Cabinet -- had announced her plans to step down as head of the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Mills for governor in 2014?

"My first task is to fulfill my promise to the president to ensure an orderly transition at the SBA," Mills, a Democrat, said two days later during her first interviews since the announcement. As for any future plans or political aspirations, Mills said she "had not yet begun the process" of deciding her next step.

Mills' tenure as SBA administrator began in 2009 and was dominated by the administration's efforts to deal with the recession.

For her part, Mills said she was proud of her agency's work to put more than $100 billion in loans into small businesses' pockets in four years by working to thaw banks' frozen credit lines through SBA-guaranteed loans. She also discussed her agency's efforts to reduce red tape, such as streamlining application processes and instituting an expedited, online system for filing for disaster assistance.

Mills plans to return to Maine, where her husband, Barry Mills, is president of Bowdoin College. She sees significant potential in her home state for job growth in such fields as manufacturing and energy.

"We have the potential to be one of the places where we see growth in manufacturing jobs," Mills said, adding that Maine is attractive to entrepreneurs because it is a "spectacularly beautiful state with a great sense of community."

As for any future political plans, Mills' answer was not a "yes" but not a definitive "no," either. Given her high-level experience in Washington and prior experience as a Maine-based venture capitalist, she could find favor with Democrats looking for a candidate with a strong business background.

No Snowe

Obama apparently can leave one name off the candidate list for his next SBA administrator: Maine's former U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe.

Obama reached out to Snowe, a Republican, in 2009 to gauge her interest in a Cabinet position, but the senator declined. (Snowe has never said publicly which position it was.) And it's not beyond the realm of possibility to envision the president approaching Snowe again, but this time to succeed Mills.

Snowe served for years as either chairman or ranking member of the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee. She not only nominated Mills for the SBA post, she also reportedly urged Obama to add the position to his Cabinet.

"No, she hasn't received any calls from the White House," her spokesman Lucas Caron said when asked last week. Snowe also had this to say in December when asked whether she would consider a Cabinet position:

"If there was some way I could contribute in other ways, but not in a Cabinet post," she said. "I never rule anything out, obviously, but my plan now is to focus on speaking out and helping in any way I can to contribute to rebuilding the notion that compromise and consensus have to be an essential ingredient of the legislative process."

Fix the debt

Snowe has, however, lent her name and presumably her time to the Fix the Debt Campaign.

Fix the Debt is a nonpartisan organization of corporate and political leaders trying to pressure Congress to take long-term, definitive action to address the nation's $16 trillion debt. While some activists on the left dismiss it as a corporate pawn group, Fix the Debt has made a name for itself in the debate and has attracted high-profile political leaders to its cause.

Snowe joined the campaign's Congressional Fiscal Leadership Council last week.

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