Forty-three states elect their attorney general by a popular vote. Gov. Paul LePage says it should be 44, and we think he may be right.

In a post-election interview with the Bangor Daily News, the governor expressed frustration at dealing with an attorney general who doesn’t belong to his political party, and said he is exploring legislation that would make the position an elected one.

Right now, Maine is the only one of the 50 states that empowers the Legislature to pick its attorney general, and it’s time to take another look at that policy.


This change would clarify the attorney general’s role in the public’s eye. A lawyer works for his or her client, and the attorney general works for the people of Maine. But because of the way the position is filled in this state, it can look like the office is an extension of the majority party, whichever that may be.

This also would raise the stature of the position. A popularly elected attorney general would be more clearly independent, and would stand on firmer ground in disputes with the other branches of government.

We don’t share the governor’s dissatisfaction with incumbent Attorney General Janet Mills, and we would not support his idea that the Legislature should take away the office’s responsibility of reviewing rules made by bureaucrats before they can be implemented.

That’s way too much power to put into very few hands in the executive branch.

However, our elected-by-the-Legislature attorney general is a relic of an earlier time, when U.S. senators were chosen by the same method. The 17th Amendment passed in 1913, and senators have been selected by the people ever since.

As bad as the gridlock in Washington has gotten in recent years, there is little, if any, sentiment for going back to the old system. This is a decision that the voters are qualified to make.

Some will argue that an elected attorney general would be too political. Candidates would have to raise money to run for office and could wind up beholden to special interests.


But as long as the contributions are disclosed, there is nothing more wrong with an attorney general running for office than a state senator or a sheriff. They all are asked to operate in the public interest.

If the governor is serious about making this change, he will need more than a change in statute, which requires only majority votes in Maine’s House and Senate and his signature.

This would require a constitutional amendment, which calls for two-thirds votes in the Legislature and the approval of voters. That’s not a change that can be made easily without a lot of debate.

But that debate should happen. Maine should join the majority of states and let the people chose their lawyer.

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