Legislators kill bill to allow statewide elections of constitutional officers

Posted June 04, 2013, at 12:59 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The latest attempt to change the way Maine’s attorney general, treasurer and secretary of state are elected failed Tuesday in the House of Representatives.

The House voted 79-59 against LD 1279, which proposed a statewide referendum to amend the Maine Constitution to allow direct elections of the three constitutional officers. Sponsored by Sen. Andre Cushing, R-Hampden, the bill called for statewide elections of the secretary of state and treasurer every two years and of the attorney general every four years.

The Maine Legislature now elects the three constitutional officers every two years, making those positions among the most prized rewards of winning legislative majorities. Tuesday’s House vote and Monday’s 18-16 vote against Cushing’s bill reflected that fact, with most Democrats, who hold majorities in the current Legislature, opposing the measure and Republicans supporting it.

Senate Majority Leader Seth Goodall of Richmond, who co-sponsored the bill, was the lone Democrat in the Senate to vote against accepting an “ought not to pass” minority report from the State and Local Government Committee.

That committee had voted 10-2 to recommend that Cushing’s bill pass, but Rep. Anne Graham, D-North Yarmouth, the House chairwoman of the committee, one of two members who opposed the bill, introduced the “ought not to pass” minority report for House consideration Tuesday.

Rep. Justin Chenette, D-Saco, a co-sponsor of LD 1279 and member of the State and Local Government Committee, spoke passionately in favor of the bill, arguing that having voters elect constitutional officers would promote transparency and be a more democratic, less partisan process than the current system.

Rep. David Cotta, R-China, another member of the committee, also urged support for Cushing’s bill.

“Let the people speak. I trust the people,” he said. “They elected everyone in this chamber.”

House members arguing against electing constitutional officers said the current system reduces the influence of campaign spending, mirrors a judicial nominating process that has worked well to minimize corruption and is not something their constituents have asked for.

Assistant House Democratic Leader Jeff McCabe of Skowhegan noted that Cotta was among lawmakers who opposed similar legislation when Republicans held majorities in the previous Legislature.

Maine is the only state where the Legislature elects the attorney general. In 43 states, voters elect the attorney general. Governors appoint the attorney general in five states, including New Hampshire. Tennessee’s supreme court names that state’s attorney general to an eight-year term.

Voters in more than 30 states also elect the secretary of state and treasurer.

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