My inspiring friend Katie Harris has a huge role with a huge enterprise, but she also has a special appreciation for small gestures and simple beauties. As the leader of government affairs for MaineHealth, she's at the intersection of health, politics, business, and community. It's a role that requires both pragmatism and compassion, and there's no one better at balancing those than Katie. I’m not sure I’ve ever met such a doer. I'm honored to serve on two development committees of the Olympia Snowe Women’s Leadership Institute with Katie; she's just as much a force in her volunteer life as in her job. But beyond her major leadership roles, she's also gifted at elevating the nuances that make so Maine special, particularly our people and our heritage. Katie’s a native Mainer too and we share our love for this incredible state, especially the rural pockets where we grew up.
Here she is in her own words:
My name is Katie Fullam Harris. I'm the Chief Government Affairs Officer at MaineHealth, our very large local health system that provides care to more than 1 million Maine residents. In my professional life, I would like to be known as a thoughtful, caring, balanced and supportive leader. Most of all, though, I hope that I am a good wife, friend and daughter.
What's the first word that comes to mind to describe Maine / Portland?
When I think of Maine, I think first of community. We are one big small town that has traditionally done a wonderful job at setting aside differences to focus on the common good.
Who is the Mainer, past or present, you find most inspiring?
There are so many Mainers who inspire me! There are the “celebrity” Mainers – Margaret Chase Smith, Angus King, George Mitchell, Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, Janet Mills, Bill Cohen – who play(ed) such a vital role in our nation’s success. But those who inspire me most are the single mothers who work so hard to ensure that their children have the advantages that they never had – providing a foundation in which their children can thrive and aspire to successful futures - and ensuring they have the means to achieve them.
What do you see as Portland / Maine’s biggest challenge?
Only one? I see Maine’s biggest challenge is that which is also our nation’s: we are rapidly shifting away from our proud heritage as a state that led through compromise and consensus to one that is deeply divided along urban/rural and class lines. Moderate is increasingly becoming an unpopular term, yet it represents a path towards compromise and evolution with minimal negative disruption. And our failure to believe in a common set of information sources underlies much of the division in Maine and in the nation. I believe strongly that good public policy requires a common set of facts related to an issue, and from which the different perspectives can agree before moving towards a solution. And compromise requires that we listen to one another without judgement. I see the growing division in Maine as being a threat to our future – for our success depends upon using the best of all of our people.
I would be remiss, however, if I didn’t mention that an immediate challenge that is far more solvable is the rate of untreated/undertreated addiction and mental illness. We need to invest in developing a balanced system that supports treatment and recovery for those who are suffering today, and prevention for our future generations. Until we design and build a comprehensive system that is flexible enough to evolve over time, we will keep playing whack-a-mole with people’s lives. We lost 716 Mainers to overdose in 2022. That is more than the population of many Maine towns. And Maine’s suicide rate is very high. We must act now and we must act together to better meet the needs of our vulnerable populations.
What is Portland / Maine’s greatest asset?
Maine’s varied natural beauty is certainly a top asset. Our water is an increasingly rare natural resource that we must protect. But in spite of the incredible natural resources our state boasts, I believe that our people are our biggest asset. Mainers’ “common sense” approach to the world has set us apart for centuries. We need to protect – and grow – common sense; our future depends on it!
How you’d like to see Portland / Maine changed 5 years from now?
In my dreams, I would like to see Maine embrace a vision of prosperity for all of our people. That vision would include a plan to support our people and our businesses that employ them. In spite of political rhetoric, they are not mutually exclusive, and they need one another to thrive. We would develop a strategic planning process for our state to guide policy at levels towards a common vision of a strong and healthy future for Maine.
A less ambitious vision (I hope) is to see a comprehensive set of services available on demand to individuals with mental illness and substance use disorder. There should be nothing stopping us from building the same level of services to treat these conditions as we have cancer, heart disease and other medical conditions.
What are your local favorites? (Restaurants, breweries, stores)
Really hard to select one, but Fore Street is definitely a top contender! It never disappoints (except when you can’t get a reservation!) I’m not a beer drinker, but my favorite bar is Dockside in Falmouth in the summer. And favorite store: Cumberland Farmer’s Market!
What are your favorite outdoor spots?
I can’t select just one. Bickford Pond in Porter, where I grew up; Casco Bay; Acadia; Just about anywhere in Maine is spectacular at some point of the year!
What makes women’s leadership unique and how can Maine women can work together to create impact?
In my experience, women are great at setting aside “their” angle on an issue to listen to others and help craft solutions that can work for all. Women see their success as being tied to a common goal, rather than victory over someone or something. I hope that increasing numbers of women in leadership roles will support more rational policy within private and public forums to protect our future!
How/why did you decide to make Maine home?
When I was in high school, I honestly expected that my career would be outside of Maine. A chance meeting in New York City after college connected me with a job in Maine, and a chance meeting at Eggs and Issues (where I met the man who has now been my husband for 26 years) kept me here. I have never regretted it. I love Maine and all that it is and for which it stands. It is now my mission to ensure that we provide great opportunities for all who want to join us in staying or becoming Mainers. Dirigo.