AUGUSTA, Maine — The candidate who Gov. Paul LePage controversially nominated last week to serve as Kennebec County’s next sheriff over county Democrats’ objections pulled his name from consideration on Wednesday, but he said he’ll run for the office in November.
The move by Chief Deputy Ken Mason of the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office ends a potential legal fight between the Republican governor’s office and the Kennebec County Democratic Committee and — for now — leaves interim Kennebec County Sheriff Ryan Reardon at the helm.
But it could be the beginning of a contentious campaign between the two: Mason said in a statement that he intends to run for the office as an independent in November, saying his withdrawal has “nothing to do with my qualifications or ability to serve” and that Democrats’ opposition to him is “a clear case of politics over public safety.”
Reardon has been interim Kennebec County sheriff since Democrat Randall Liberty took the warden’s job at the Maine State Prison in September. Maine law says the county party committee of the departing sheriff is required to submit recommendations for an appointment to the governor, who must “choose from any recommendations” submitted by the committee.
But LePage has been feuding with committee Democrats since they only forwarded one name — Reardon’s — for the job. Mason, also a Democrat, submitted his name for consideration, but the committee rebuffed him.
Instead, LePage announced last week that he’d nominate Mason, who said that he didn’t know that he’d be nominated until the governor called his office that day. In a news release then, LePage blasted the committee for “silly games.”
On Wednesday, LePage said the committee’s “political trickery” placed a well-qualified candidate “in a very difficult situation,” saying he wished Mason well in the election. Reardon has already filed to run.
However, LePage’s play may never have worked: It would have had to have been certified by Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, whose office said it had concerns about the legality of LePage’s appointment of someone who had not been recommended by the county party.
The law seems to intend for more than one name to be forwarded to the governor, but it doesn’t say he can nominate whoever he wants. Rita Moran, who chairs the county Democratic committee, said the group planned to meet next week to decide if it wanted to submit other names to LePage, but it hasn’t decided what it will do after Mason’s withdrawal.
In a statement, Reardon said neither he nor Mason wanted the situation to come to this, saying, “the ambiguity of this situation has been personally difficult.”
“I have done everything that has been asked of me and will continue to focus on my position, my employees, and those in my custody,” he said.