AUGUSTA, Maine — A Republican leader in the Legislature attempted for the second time in his career Wednesday to convince his peers that Maine’s attorney general, treasurer and secretary of state should be elected by the Maine voters, not lawmakers, every two years.
Assistant Senate Majority Leader Andre Cushing of Hampden told members of the State and Local Government Committee on Wednesday that Maine is a decided outlier in the way that it elects its constitutional officers.
“At a time when the public is demanding more transparency and more involvement in the choice of who represents them, does it not seem prudent that we respond by offering them a choice for these important positions?” said Cushing.
The concept, contained in LD 957, calls for an amendment to the Maine Constitution, which says the state’s constitutional offices are to be elected by a joint convention of the Legislature. Those votes usually are among the very first orders of business for incoming legislatures.
Cushing sponsored a similar bill in 2013, which was defeated by mostly Democrats, who at the time held majorities in the House and Senate.
Since then, Republican Gov. Paul LePage repeatedly has called for popular elections of constitutional officers and once told a reporter he wants to replace Maine’s secretary of state position with a lieutenant governor. LePage’s office did not respond Wednesday to a question from the BDN about whether the governor intends to make that proposal formally this year.
According to data provided by Cushing, Maine is the only state where the Legislature elects the attorney general, one of three where lawmakers elect the secretary of state and one of four where the Legislature elects the treasurer.
Among the supporters of Cushing’s bill is Rep. Justin Chenette, D-Saco.
“Give the power to the hands of the people, the voters who put you in these positions,” Chenette said to the legislative committee. “Even if you disagree with this idea, all this bill seeks to do is let the Maine people decide for themselves whether they would like the right to elect their constitutional officers.”
One concern raised by Polly Ward of the League of Women Voters of Maine, who testified neither for nor against the bill, is that opening elections of constitutional officers to statewide votes would increase the influence of special interest and corporate cash on positions that require no funding to be elected.
“We reject the notion that Maine must change its system just because it doesn’t mirror election processes in other states,” Ward said. “Raising a constitutional amendment is a serious issue that requires serious examination and should not be undertaken without proper study and assessment of the impact.”
Deliberations on the bill will continue in the coming weeks.