AUGUSTA, Maine — Republicans don’t plan to offer up a candidate for Maine’s top law enforcement official, which leaves Democrats enjoying newfound control over the State House to duke it out behind closed doors in the nation’s only attorney general race decided by lawmakers.
Democrats are promising to address the opioid crisis, push back against President Donald Trump‘s environmental policies and work with tribal nations on a 1980 land claims settlement. Attorney general hopefuls include Sen. Mike Carpenter, departing Sen. Mark Dion, Rep. Aaron Frey, lawyer Tim Shannon and district attorney Maeghan Maloney.
Republicans, meanwhile, don’t currently have plans to nominate a candidate, according to Republicans Rep. Kathleen Dillingham and Sen. Dana Dow, who are both tapped to lead their caucuses in the upcoming legislative session.
Legislative caucuses will nominate candidates Dec. 4. Then, newly sworn-in lawmakers will select an attorney general by secret ballot on Dec. 5.
Voters on Election Day chose outgoing Democratic Attorney General Janet Mills as governor. Mills, a former lawmaker, had served as attorney general since 2013.
The Associated Press’ unofficial results from Election Day show Democrats flipped the Senate and have a 21-14 majority. Democrats also gained 16 seats overall in the House for an 89-57 majority.
Departing Sen. Roger Katz, a Republican, said he was considering a run if Republicans were near a majority. “But the arithmetic just doesn’t add up for any Republican,” he said.
Shannon, who unsuccessfully ran for attorney general in 2012, said he is running to hold polluters, civil rights violators and the Trump administration accountable. “Corporations have been preying on Maine citizens, and the Trump administration has gone essentially off the rails,” he said.
Maloney said she wants to eliminate mandatory minimum sentencing while expanding alternative options like specialized courts for veterans and individuals with co-occurring disorders. “I’d like to see the best care available for those who aren’t in the criminal justice system, as well as those who are in the criminal justice system,” said Maloney, who serves as district attorney for Kennebec and Somerset counties.
Defense attorney Frey said that as attorney general, he would set a tone that individuals struggling with opioid use disorder should be treated, not criminalized. “Frankly, we have a new administration, a new governor who has been clear about treating those with opioid use disorder differently,” Frey said.
Carpenter, who served as Maine’s attorney general from 1991 to 1995, said he would ensure a smooth transition while working to repair relations with tribal nations in Maine. “We’re going to have a lot of issues com down the road from the federal government, and I think we need someone with experience in order to deal with those quickly and efficiently,” he said.
Dion, a former sheriff who unsuccessful ran for governor, said he supports no-cash bail, partly to reduce the number of pretrial detainees housed in county jails. “Sometimes it seems like the presumption of innocence has evaporated,” Dion said.
Republican Gov. Paul LePage for years criticized Maine’s process of selecting attorney general, but his efforts to reform the system have fizzled.
All other states either allow voters or the governor to choose attorneys general.
Frey, Maloney, Shannon and Carpenter said Maine’s system means attorneys general aren’t beholden to campaign donors. Carpenter said that besides that from LePage, there has been little push to change how Maine selects its attorney general.
“Other states have constant scandals with the attorney general trying to move to other offices,” Carpenter said. “The Maine attorney general has never seriously had their integrity questioned.”
Dion, in contrast, said the public should choose Maine’s top law enforcement official, an office typically filled by former lawmakers. He said he is confident lawmakers aren’t swayed by campaign donors, and said the Legislature could always limit campaign contributions to attorney general candidates.
“I just feel the public will probably view this election as less than transparent, and they have a right to participate on some level,” Dion said.
Those vying to be attorney general in Maine often chat with legislators individually in living rooms, through email or on the phone in the months leading up to the election. Candidates, who must be attorneys and Maine residents, cover the cost of running: gas, meals and postage.
“It is an anachronism,” Carpenter said, “one that seems to work.”