AUGUSTA – Gov. Paul LePage’s desire to strip away the Legislature’s ability to choose the state’s top law enforcement and elections officials and the state treasurer and give that authority to himself and future governors got a predictably frosty reception from lawmakers on Wednesday.

The LePage administration presented three separate bills to the Legislature’s State and Local Government Committee amid an ongoing and public rift between LePage, a Republican, and Attorney General Janet Mills, a Democrat who was chosen by the Legislature. One of the governor’s proposals would take away the Legislature’s constitutionally enshrined ability to elect the attorney general and leave the appointment up to the governor, an idea that drew sharp criticism from Democratic lawmakers.

Rep. Roland Martin, D-Sinclair, said each proposal was “pure politics and a blatant power grab” by LePage.

Hank Fenton, the governor’s deputy legal counsel, said the proposals would make government more efficient because the three officials would report to “one central boss.”

One proposal, L.D. 1417, changes the election of the attorney general by the Legislature to an appointment process similar to the way the governor selects members of his or her cabinet. Gubernatorial nominations for department commissioners are ultimately approved by the state Senate after they’re vetted by a legislative committee.

Maine is the only state in which the Legislature elects its top law official, according to the National Association of Attorneys General. Forty-three states and the District of Columbia popularly elect their attorneys general, and the position is appointed by the governor in five states. In Tennessee, the Supreme Court fills the position.


In January, LePage had originally indicated that his administration was considering changing the attorney general selection to a popular election.

“We’re leaning on a general election at this point,” he said at the time. “We think the people should have a say in who their state attorney is.”

However, the administration ultimately settled on proposals in which the governor would play a key role in selecting the three officials.

A second bill, L.D. 1418, proposes eliminating the Office of the Secretary of State and replacing it with a lieutenant governor, who would be popularly elected but run on the same ticket as the governor. Forty-one states have lieutenant governors, who also act as the second in the line of power succession in the event that a governor resigns or dies while in office. Two states, Tennessee and West Virginia, simply assign the title to the president of the state Senate.

Seven states — Arizona, Maine, New Hampshire, Oregon, Tennessee, West Virginia and Wyoming — do not elect a lieutenant governor. In Maine, the Senate president is the next in line to assume gubernatorial duties if a governor resigns or dies in office.

While L.D. 1418 appears to align Maine with the majority of states with lieutenant governors, it contains a key difference that would make Maine an outlier. Only two states, Alaska and Utah, allow lieutenant governors to oversee state elections as LePage has proposed in L.D. 1418.


In written testimony, Julie Flynn, the current deputy secretary of state who oversees the Bureau of Corporations and Elections, did not oppose the bill. However, she questioned whether the governor’s proposal would threaten the independence of the chief election official.

A third bill, L.D. 1419, would take away the Legislature’s power to elect the state Treasurer and make the post a gubernatorial appointment.

Republican Rep. Joel Stetkis, of Canaan, sponsored all three bills. Stetkis said the proposals were necessary because elections by the Legislature were overly partisan. His explanation did not sit well with Democrats, who viewed the bills as a partisan attack by a Republican governor seeking to consolidate his power.

Fenton reasoned that the governor is popularly elected in a statewide election and, therefore, Mainers trust him to make the selections. He said that appointed officers would be more accountable because they would follow a chain of command overseen by the governor.

Martin, a former commissioner for the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, said fealty to the governor “was exactly what concerns me” about the proposed changes.

All three bills face long odds in the Legislature, which is divided by a Republican-controlled Senate and a Democratic-controlled House of Representatives. Additionally, all three proposals require altering the Maine Constitution, which means two-thirds of the Legislature need to approve the measures before each one is sent to voters for final ratification.

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