Inside the hotel lobby as US Governors descended on downtown Portland

PORTLAND, Maine — Some of the most powerful people in the United States traveled to Portland on Wednesday, the first day of a meeting of the National Governors Association.

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, a Republican who campaigned with former Maine Gov. Paul LePage in Westbrook before arriving in Maine’s biggest city, said he “loves Maine”.

He had eaten a burger and ssam jerk shrimp lettuce wraps at the Nosh Kitchen Bar on Congress Street in downtown Portland the night before, calling both “absolutely delicious.”

“It’s a great time to be here,” Sununu said.

But the bipartisan reunion of a group that normally tries to set aside divisive issues when they come together has been difficult for many Americans, filled with conflict due to recent Supreme Court rulings, including on the right to abortion, and a wave of armed violence.

Illinois Governor JB Pritzker walks through the lobby of the Westin Hotel in Portland Wednesday, July 13, 2022, at the start of a three-day National Governors Association conference. This is the first time the event has been held in Maine since the early 1980s. Credit: Troy R. Bennett/BDN

Some of the governors present were among those most connected to these events, including Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, a Republican whose state has just implemented a sweeping abortion ban, and Illinois Governor JB Pritzker, a Democrat who helped coordinate the response to a Chicago-based Fourth of July parade shooting that left seven people dead.

Pritzker did not respond when asked a question in the hallway about gun control following the Highland Park shooting. Governor Janet Mills also declined to answer questions during her taping.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan noted that he’s been enjoying Maine so far in his short time here. Hogan was eager to explore more, he said.

“They’re going to show us around,” Hogan said. “We’re definitely going to have lobster at some point.”

People walked in and out of the hotel lobby at the Westin Portland Harborview on the High Street. Besides the governors present with their families and entourage, many lobbyists from organizations and companies also showed up.

Security abounded from Portland Police and various other departments. A state trooper who usually covers the Jackman area said he was not used to such an urban environment.

Maine Governor Janet Mills walks through the lobby of the Westin Hotel in Portland Wednesday, July 13, 2022, at the start of a three-day National Governors Association conference. This is the first time the event has been held in Maine since the early 1980s. Credit: Troy R. Bennett/BDN

Attendees walked around with name badges, although governors generally did not appear to be wearing them. They probably bet on people knowing who they are, although some are much more well known and recognizable than others.

The events were closed to the press on Wednesday, but Minnesota Governor Tim Walz and Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, who were attending virtually, led a meeting that included a discussion on cybersecurity, disaster relief and the National Guard, according to a tweet from the association.

Public events will begin Thursday and Friday at the Holiday Inn Portland-by the Bay on Spring Street. Mills is expected to speak at an event there tomorrow, according to his office.

The annual summer conference was also the first non-virtual summer meeting since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Portland was scheduled to host the 2020 summer event before the pandemic forced it to go virtual.

It was also the first time Portland had seen the conference since August 1983. This conference included a speech by then-Vice President and seasonal resident of Kennebunkport, George H. W. Bush. Also present were the future opponent of Bush in the 1988 presidential election, then Governor of Massachusetts, Michael Dukakis, as well as the future President Bill Clinton, then Governor of Arkansas.

The conference also came with several nearby street closures: On Wednesday, Commercial Street between Pearl and Franklin streets was scheduled to be blocked to vehicles from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Sections of Fore Street, Hancock Street, India Street, Thames Street and Freedom Way were also blocked.

Two reporters from the Bangor Daily News had been able to operate independently in the lobby of the Westin, speaking to guests and taking photos, after entering earlier in the day. However, they were stopped by security when they tried to re-enter late in the afternoon.

A media clearance was required, security said, which a National Governors Association official said was not possible to give on Wednesday.



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Sandy A. Greer