Maine: An Encyclopedia

Mitchell, George J.

(1933-  ) was born on August 20, 1933 in Waterville, where he spent his youth. After receiving his bachelor’s degree from Bowdoin College in 1954, he served as an officer in the U.S. Army Counter Intelligence Corps until 1956. In 1960 he earned a law degree from Georgetown University.

After serving as a trial lawyer in the Antitrust Division of the Justice Department for two years, he took a position as executive assistant to Senator Edmund S. Muskie, who became Mitchell’s most important political mentor.

Although he returned to Maine in 1965 to work for the private law firm of Jensen, Baird, Gardner and Henry, he remained active in politics serving as he chaired the Maine Democratic Party from 1966 to 1968. He then held the post of Democratic National Committeeman from Maine between 1969 and 1977. In 1968 and 1972 Mitchell also served as deputy director for Muskie’s respective vice-presidential and presidential campaign bids. Mitchell himself made an unsuccessful run for governor of Maine in 1974.

In the early 1970s he returned to public law practice serving as a part-time assistant county attorney for Cumberland County while still working for the law firm of Jensen, Baird, Gardner and Henry. Mitchell accepted the post of U.S. Attorney for the state of Maine in 1977. Two years later President Jimmy Carter appointed Mitchell a U.S. district court judge.

In 1980 Senator Muskie, was appointed Secretary of State. The senator recommended to Governor Joseph Brennan that Mitchell be appointed to complete the remaining two years of his term. This was the beginning of Mitchell’s fourteen-year career in the U.S. Senate. He won the election in his own right in 1982 and was reelected in 1988 by a record 81%.

Senator Mitchell served on the Finance Committee, the Environment and Public Works Committee, the Veterans Affairs Committee, the Governmental Affairs Committee, and the Senate Democratic Steering Committee. In 1980 he worked with Senator William S. Cohen to achieve authorization of the settlement of the Maine Indian land claims.

In 1984 he was appointed chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and led the Democrats in gaining eleven seats and majority control of the Senate in 1986. Following this effort, Senator Mitchell was appointed to the Select Committee on the Iran-Contra Affair in 1987. His performance on the Iran-Contra Committee propelled Senator Mitchell into the national spotlight and helped him win the post of Senate Majority Leader a year later.

In 1988 Mitchell won a landslide re-election to the U.S. Senate, but he noticed the only voting precinct he didn’t win was in the town of Talmadge. He decided to find out why. He visited the town in December 1988, speaking to a crowd gathered at a the small village church.  Many people were opposed to his support of abortion rights and voted accordingly. The Portland Press Herald reported, “Still, after explaining his position and discussing other issues, he was thanked warmly by many for coming out and listening.”

In March, 1994 he said he would retire from the Senate at the end of his term. In November 1995, President Clinton appointed him special adviser to the President of the United States and the Secretary of State for economic initiatives in Ireland. He mediated negotiations to reinstate the cease-fire in Northern Ireland and to establish a new political understanding there.

Mitchell and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, October 2010

Mitchell and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, October 2010

President Barak Obama appointed Mitchell as his special envoy to seek a settlement to the Pasletinian-Israel disputes over land and boundaries.  The photo was accompanied by the following text from the U.S. Department of State: “U.S. Special Envoy for Middle East Peace George J. Mitchell discusses Middle East issues with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem, Israel, on October 1, 2010.” He resigned in May of 2011 after more than two years of frustrating, but non-productive, efforts at a peace deal.

Additional resources

George J. Mitchell Department of Special Collections & Archives at Bowdoin College, especially the George J. Mitchell Papers, which contain documents, photographs, moving images, memorabilia, news clippings, and other materials.

Gould, Alberta. George Mitchell: In Search of Peace. Farmington, Me. Heritage Publishing. c1996.

Mitchell, George J. Making Peace. Berkeley, Ca. University of California Press. 2000.

Plimpton, Lisa. A Decade of Impact: Measuring the Mitchell Institute’s Educational & Economic Outcomes 1999-2008. Portland, Me.: Mitchell Institute. 2009. [Maine State Law and Legislative Reference Library]

Routhier, Ray. “Former Sen. George Mitchell delves into Maine childhood in his new memoir.” Portland Press Herald. May 4, 2015. (accessed May 11. 2017)

U.S. Department of State. (accessed January 24, 2012)

Valentino, Daina J. A Content Analysis Study of Bias in the Portland Press Herald and the Bangor Daily News during the 1982 Mitchell-Emery U.S. Senate Election. 1984. (Thesis (Honors) in Political Science–University of Maine, 1984) [University of Maine, Raymond H. Fogler Library, Special Collections]

This entry was posted in U.S. Senators and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.
This entry was last modified: May 11, 2017 02:36 PM

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *