Attorney general candidates claim experience qualifies each for nomination

Posted Nov. 27, 2008, at 9:04 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Three state representatives are seeking a majority of Democratic lawmakers to nominate one of them as Maine’s 55th attorney general next week as the new Legislature convenes.

All three, Rep. John Brautigam, D-Falmouth, Rep. Sean Faircloth, D-Bangor, and Rep. Janet Mills, D-Farmington, claim their experience — both political and legal — qualify them to be the state’s top lawyer directing an office with about 200 jobs, most of them lawyers.

They have been waging a campaign of personal visits, letters and e-mails to the 116 Democrats that will nominate one of them as attorney general on Tuesday.

The full Legislature elects the attorney general on Wednesday, and while Republican lawmakers may nominate a candidate, Democrats have a commanding majority of the 186 lawmakers. That means the Democratic nomination all but assures election.

Brautigam tried several consumer cases while an assistant attorney general, and was the co-chair of the Legislature’s Insurance and Financial Services Committee the past two years.

“I have a variety of experiences trying cases since I graduated from law school 17 years ago,” Brautigam said. “I think I have had the range of experiences that will be needed by the attorney general with the financial crisis we are in.”

Faircloth said that over the past 20 years he has managed a nonprofit corporation, practiced law, worked as an assistant attorney general and served in legislative leadership. Those experiences, he said, have prepared him for the job.

“The job of the attorney general requires the combination of management, legal and policy skills,” Faircloth said. “I have been successful at all three.”

Mills was an assistant attorney general in the 1970s, elected district attorney in 1980 and served in that post for 14 years. She went into private practice after losing a primary contest for Congress and has served in the Legislature on both the Appropriations Committee and the Judiciary Committee since her election to the House in 2002.

“I am the best prepared for this job,” Mills said. “I have more legal experience, in prosecuting cases, in civil litigation, as a district attorney and as a legislator than both of my opponents combined.”

As Democrats, they are reluctant to criticize each other. But they all acknowledge they have their own weaknesses.

Mills said with the budget cuts that will be needed in the Attorney General’s Office, her weakness may be how long it has been since she served in the office or as a district attorney, which is funded through the attorney general’s budget.

“I don’t know the budget as well as I need to know it,” she said. “I never served in management at the [Attorney General’s Office] as I did as a district attorney. That’s a weakness I think we all share going into this budget.”

Brautigam said his weakness would be his tendency to closely manage a case or an issue, and as attorney general he would have to delegate responsibility.

“That is something I will have to learn to do,” he said, “to get to know the staff and learn to trust them with cases and when to delegate responsibility.”

Faircloth said his weakness is his taking positions on issues regardless of the political consequences of his position.

“I’m willing to take stands that harm my political career,” he said.

But Faircloth refused to say whom he would support for the post were he to run third at the joint Democratic caucus on Tuesday with a second vote between Brautigam and Mills.

“I am not comfortable answering that question,” he said. “I am having ongoing conversations with all members of the Legislature and they might take umbrage at that. I would just say they are both excellent.”

Neither Mills nor Brautigam was hesitant to answer the question. Mills said she will vote for Brautigam if he is in a runoff with Faircloth, and Brautigam said he would support Mills if she is in a runoff with Faircloth.

“My second choice is John Brautigam,” Mills said. “I respect his legal mind, his integrity and his experience.”

Unlike Mills, who will be able to vote as a representative, Brautigam and Faircloth will not. But Brautigam said if he runs third, he will endorse Mills.

“Janet has great experience representing the people of Maine as a district attorney and that is important,” he said. “I am really impressed with her experience.”

While the three are campaigning hard for the nomination, they all agree the biggest issue facing the victor will be budget cuts.

Attorney General Steven Rowe, who has remained neutral in the race, submitted an estimate to the state budget office to meet the 10 percent cut target set by Gov. John Baldacci. Rowe said it would require the loss of nine assistant district attorneys and seven assistant attorneys general.

“There is no doubt that the loss of these positions would have a serious impact upon both the Office of the Attorney General and the District Attorneys,” Rowe wrote.

The new attorney general takes office in January, just days before the governor submits his proposed state budget, which includes the proposed budget for the Attorney General’s Office.

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