AUGUSTA — The Kennebec County Democratic Committee will meet Thursday to decide how it can meet an apparent statutory requirement to choose at least one additional candidate to recommend to Gov. Paul LePage to fill the vacant Kennebec County sheriff’s seat.

This shift comes after Attorney General Janet Mills notified the committee that she had been requested to give specific advice on the issue. It may break the stalemate between LePage and the county Democratic committee over the issue of nominations.

In the meeting notice, committee chairwoman Rita Moran said upon receiving a new legal interpretation, the committee has been advised to recommend at least one additional candidate for appointment if the committee wishes the governor to act on its recommendations.

At the end of January, Moran received a letter from Mills, noting that Cynthia Montgomery, who was until recently LePage’s chief legal counsel, had recently sought advice on the issue.

“Before providing a detailed response,” Mills wrote, “I would like to know the Committee’s intentions. … While the intent of the statute is not entirely clear, the use of the words ‘choose’ and ‘recommendations’ seem to imply that if the Committee submits its recommendations, the names of more than one qualified individual should be submitted.”

If the county committee opts to forward a second name, Ken Mason would like it to be his. Mason, chief deputy at the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office and a lifelong Kennebec County resident, put his name in for consideration when the call for nominations went out, but he didn’t make the cut.

“This is all about the process and getting a fair shot,” he said.

In October, the county Democratic Committee met to nominate candidates to fill vacancies in the sheriff’s office and on the Kennebec County Commission. Former Sheriff Randall Liberty resigned his job when LePage appointed him warden of the Maine State Prison in Warren. The commission vacancy was created by the death of District 1 Commissioner Beverly Daggett. By law, because both seats were held by Democrats, the county Democratic Committee is obliged to nominate candidates to the governor to fill them.

The sheriff’s vacancy drew two candidates: Ryan Reardon, who had served as chief deputy under Liberty and is the current interim sheriff, and Mason. Three candidates sought consideration for the county commission seat: former state legislator Patsy Crockett, Augusta City Councilor Pat Paradis and Carl Pease, former Windsor town manager.

Through its process, the committee opted to drop the lowest vote-getter in both offices, Mason and Pease, leaving a single candidate for sheriff and two for county commission.

At that time, Adrienne Bennett, the governor’s press secretary, said the governor preferred to see three candidates, but would probably accept two with an explanation.

The statute that governs this process states: “The governor shall choose from any recommendations submitted to the governor by the county committee of the political party from which the appointment is made.”

The Secretary of State’s office, which oversees elections in Maine, has held that the governor must choose from however many names are presented.

The law does not enumerate the number of candidates that must be provided.

In January, LePage contacted Moran via a hand-delivered letter, in which he noted the constitutional appointment power and the statutorily granted choice of recommendations both rest in the governor.

“Your refusal to fulfill your statutory obligation out of political maneuvering fails to serve the interests of Kennebec County citizens and exemplifies the reason for my frustration and disappointment with party politics,” he wrote.

In 2012, a similar stalemate surfaced after LePage failed to appoint the county Democratic committee’s choice to fill the vacancy in the district attorney’s office for Kennebec and Somerset counties. The committee’s choice, Maeghan Maloney, was not appointed. She subsequently ran for the seat and was elected. During the process, LePage expressed his preference for a different candidate.

If the sheriff’s vacancy is filled, that person would serve until the end of the year. A special election in November will decide who will serve out the remainder of Liberty’s term, which runs through 2018.

If an appointment is made for the county commission vacancy, that person will serve until the end of the year, completing Daggett’s term.

The Kennebec County Democratic Committee is scheduled to meet at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the county government center at 125 State St.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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