A bill that would have Maine voters elect the state’s attorney general, treasurer and secretary of state gained bipartisan support in the Legislature’s State and Local Government Committee on Wednesday.

“This is long overdue in this state and I’m glad we are moving forward,” said Sen. Joe Baldacci, D-Bangor, Senate chair of the committee and primary sponsor of the bill. The committee also killed off or voted down several variants of the legislation Wednesday.

Baldacci’s bill has gained broad bipartisan support and was endorsed by the committee 7-3 Wednesday, with three of Baldacci’s Democratic colleagues voting to oppose it.

Several Republican lawmakers spoke in favor of the measure.

‘The practical reality is that our current system of choosing the occupants of these positions of public trust rewards Augusta insiders,” state Sen. Rick Bennett, R-Oxford, and a former chairman of the Maine Republican Party, wrote in testimony supporting the bill. “Indeed, the only sure requirement to be elected to these important posts is that the candidate be a recently serving legislator from the majority party. The current practice has diminished the opportunity for otherwise well-qualified individuals to be considered.”

Maine is among a handful of states that do not hold popular elections for so-called “constitutional officers.” Instead, the state constitution calls for the positions to be elected by the Legislature, and the positions are usually filled by members of the majority party. All three current constitutional officers are Democrats.

The positions are limited to four consecutive two-year terms, but are frequently a springboard to other elected positions, including the governor’s office. Gov. Janet Mills served three consecutive terms as attorney general prior to being elected governor in 2018. She also served one term as AG from 2009 to 2011.

But lawmakers from both parties – usually when they are in the minority – have clamored at times for the positions to be filled by popular vote.

Former Republican Gov. Paul LePage called for a similar change in 2015, when he was involved in a political dispute with Mills, with whom he frequently clashed while she was attorney general.

But the measure faces an uphill battle, despite the committee vote Wednesday, because it would require changing the state constitution. To be enacted requires a two-thirds majority vote in the Legislature as well as majority approval by state voters.

There have been 103 attempts over the years to change how the state’s constitutional officers are elected and none has succeeded, according to the Maine State Law and Legislative Reference Library.

The bill, L.D. 874. calls for the constitutional officers to be chosen in the same manner as members of the Maine House and Senate, which means ranked-choice voting would not be used.

Maine is the only state where the attorney general is elected by the Legislature; in 43 others, the attorney general is elected by popular vote. The post is appointed by the governor in Alaska, Hawaii, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Wyoming, and selected by the state supreme court in Tennessee.

Only 47 states have a secretary of state, and in 35, the position is filled by popular vote. In the other 12, including Maine, the position is filled by the Legislature or appointed by the governor.

The state treasurer is also a popularly elected position in 36 of the 48 states that have one, while the governor appoints the post in eight states and the Legislature fills the position in the other four, including Maine.

Baldacci’s bill will now move to the full Legislature.


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