AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage has made good on his pledge to propose fundamental changes in the way the state’s constitutional officers — the attorney general, treasurer and secretary of state — are selected.
The governor would expand his own power to select the first two officers and abolish the office of the secretary of state altogether.
Earlier this year, LePage told reporters he was so upset with the current attorney general, Democrat Janet Mills, that he would propose changing the state Constitution so future governors could have a say about who gets the job.
In legislation printed Tuesday, LePage proposes the executive branch appoint the attorney general, with the Legislature confirming the appointment — like it does with members of the governor’s Cabinet.
In a separate proposal, he wants the chief executive also to appoint the state treasurer, with Senate confirmation. And in yet a third measure, he is proposing to amend the Constitution to abolish the office of secretary of state, replacing it with an elected lieutenant governor who would replace the Senate president as next in the line of succession to the governorship.
It’s a real power grab, says House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, a Democrat from Skowhegan. “This isn’t the governor proposing to change these positions from, you know, legislative vote to popular vote,” McCabe said. “This is the governor taking on offices that are statewide offices and putting them under his appointment structure and making them part of his Cabinet.”
McCabe said creating an entirely new constitutional position — a lieutenant governor — is another major proposal for the Legislature to consider with less than a month remaining before the planned adjournment of the legislative session.
“For the governor to come up at this late stage of the game in the session while we are trying to finalize a budget and bring forward these major changes to the Maine Constitution is troubling at best,” he said.
But Senate President Mike Thibodeau, a Republican from Winterport, while not ready to endorse the proposals, said the governor has made it clear to him that these are important issues he wants considered by lawmakers.
“It would be a significant change, as compared to the way things are currently run, but it is not inconsistent with the way many other states handle things,” Thibodeau said. “So, it will get a proper vetting, and we will see how it comes out of committee.”
Thibodeau said the three proposals should not be partisan and should be considered on the basis of what is best for the state in the future. He expects the bills will be sent to the State and Local Government Committee for public hearings.
LePage is in Dallas attending a meeting of the Republican Governors Association and could not be reached for comment on his legislation.
This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public Broadcasting Network.