Kennebec County Democrats voted Wednesday to send a second name for Gov. Paul LePage to consider for the vacant Kennebec County sheriff’s post.

In a special meeting Wednesday, the county committee identified William Johnson as a candidate to fill the vacancy until the end of this year.

Johnson is now the interim chief deputy in the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office, under Interim Kennebec County Sheriff Ryan Reardon.

The move represents a shift from a position the committee took nearly a month ago, when it declined to offer LePage a second name, and instead to leave the governor with only its original nominee, Reardon.

“We’re still being asked for a second name,” Maeghan Maloney, district attorney for Kennebec and Somerset counties, said at the start of the meeting. “If we don’t send another name, I think we’ll see the governor make another appointment. At this point, I’m starting to worry that we’ll be losing people. I would like us to step back and see the bigger picture. We didn’t start this fight, but we’re going to end it.”

Johnson, who was recruited to the sheriff’s office two years ago, came to Maine with his wife and four children after retiring from the Santa Fe, New Mexico, Police Department, where he started as a patrol officer in 1998 and rose to the level of deputy chief.

Johnson, in a presentation he gave to the 40 committee members at the special meeting, said grew up in the northern New Hampshire community of North Haverill in poverty in a family that was wracked by alcoholism and domestic violence. With an African-American father and a white mother, he said he encountered racism while growing up.

He entered the Army, where he served as a paratrooper. When he left the Army, it was to go to work for the Santa Fe Police Department.

During his career in New Mexico, his experience included working as a detective in the homicide division, increasing levels of responsibility and supervision, and time spent considering how best to meet the law enforcement needs of this community. That led, he said, to innovating programs to address sex trafficking, issues involving the LGBT community and drug trafficking and use.

“With heroin, from my perspective,” he said in response to a question from a committee member, “you have to do three things — prevention, recovery and attack the manufacturing and distribution of the drugs.”

The committee voted unanimously to add his name to Reardon’s for the governor’s consideration.

The county Democratic Committee sent Reardon’s name to the governor for consideration last October.

If an appointment is made, the nominee would serve only for the balance of this year. By law, a special election must be held in November so that county voters can choose who will fill out the remaining two years of Liberty’s term, which runs through 2018.

Last month, LePage chose his own candidate for the job. Although Ken Mason, chief deputy in the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office, had submitted his name for consideration by the Democratic County Committee last October, the committee opted not to send his name forward, either then or at last month’s special meeting.

Less that a week after LePage’s announcement, Mason withdrew from the appointment, but he signaled his intent to for the office in November as an independent.

The county Democratic committee and the Republican governor have squared off over the interpretation of the state law that governs such appointments.

The law states that in making the appointment, “the governor shall choose from any recommendations submitted to the governor by the county committee of the political party from which the appointment will be made.”

While it doesn’t enumerate the number of candidates a committee is required to provide, the law contains the words “choose” and “recommendations,” which LePage cites in his demand for more than one candidate.

LePage’s staff has asked Attorney General Janet Mills to render an opinion on the matter. To date, she has not done so, but in a letter to Kennebec County Democratic Committee Chairwoman Rita Moran, she said while the law is unclear, it appears to support the position that more than one name ought to be provided. To date, no decision has been made. Last week, a spokesman for Mills said there’s no timetable by which a decision would be made.

But when LePage announced his appointment of Mason, Kennebec County government officials pointed out that the governor is obligated to choose from what the county committee provides, and they called LePage’s action illegal.

Johnson’s nomination is expected to be delivered to the governor’s office on Thursday.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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