AUGUSTA, Maine — A day after being sworn in, Gov. Paul LePage administered the oath of office Thursday to three prominent state officials — the secretary of state, attorney general and treasurer.
The Republican governor also issued a brief to-do list to the three: Make it easier to bring business to Maine. Fix the looming liability in the pension system, and work on the health care issue.
With some pomp — but not to the level of the inauguration a day earlier — Charles Summers, Bill Schneider and Bruce Poliquin took their oaths in a House chamber packed with relatives, friends and state officials, including Chief Justice Leigh Saufley and U.S. Attorney Thomas Delahanty II.
As secretary of state, Summers replaces Matthew Dunlap. He’ll be in charge of motor vehicle registration and licensing, elections, corporation registration and the state archive.
Schneider is the new attorney general. He succeeds Janet Mills as head of the agency that represents the state in civil matters and prosecutes serious crimes. As treasurer, Poliquin will oversee the state’s cash and debt management. He takes over for David Lemoine.
The three constitutional officers were elected by the new Republican legislative majority and replace Democrats.
Picking up on a theme LePage consistently has pushed, Summers promised to take steps within his office “to show businesses of the state we take them seriously,” adding, “My door is open.” A former state senator, Summers also served as regional administrator for the Small Business Administration and is a commander in the U.S. Naval Reserve.
Schneider also promised to work with the governor and Legislature on issues that can put more Mainers to work, while listing fighting prescription drug abuse and protecting consumers as other priorities. A West Point graduate, Schneider served in the Army Special Forces and was a Ranger. He was an assistant Maine attorney general before serving in the Legislature and later in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Maine.
Poliquin, a GOP primary opponent of LePage’s, worked for a company that managed $5 billion in pension, endowment and foundation assets before launching into politics. Cautioning that “unfettered growth in debt is dangerous,” Poliquin vowed to closely scrutinize any additional state borrowing so debt is not simply passed on to future taxpayers. Mainers expect more, he said, than “kicking a fiscal can down the street.”
Poliquin said he’ll oversee a state debt load that includes $4.4 billion unfunded liability in the state retirement system, which has been a concern to state officials.
House Democratic leader Rep. Emily Cain of Orono said the new officials are well-qualified and she expressed hope they will do their work in a nonpartisan, nonactivist manner. In particular, she urged Schneider to reject calls to sign on to a multistate lawsuit to repeal parts of the federal health care law that was enacted last year. As the new Republican-led government continued to take shape Thursday, at least three Cabinet members — Environmental Commissioner Eliza Townsend, Fisheries and Wildlife Commissioner Roland “Danny” Martin and Acting Environmental Protection Commissioner Beth Nagusky — handed in their resignations. LePage has named four of 15 commissioners to be nominated.