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New Maine Legislature to Choose Constitutional Officers
11/08/2012   Reported By: A.J. Higgins

With Maine's historic election results already tabulated, a new campaign is already underway at the State House. But in this election, only 186 voters will get to cast ballots. The newly-elected members of the Maine House and Senate will gather next month to elect a new attorney general, secretary of state ad state treasurer. A few of the candidates have held those positions before, but as A.J. Higgins reports, there are some new faces in the crowd.

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New Maine Legislature to Choose Constitutional Off
Originally Aired: 11/8/2012 5:30 PM
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It is sometimes perceived as the quiet election in which the average Maine voters has little or no influence in the outcome. But the stakes are high.

The candidates elected by the Maine Legislature to the constitutional offices of attorney general, secretary of state and treasurer will make decisions that affect the lives of all Mainers in ways ranging from enforcing state criminial and consumer protections laws, to registering their cars to ensuring that the state receives the best possible interests rates and returns on investments.

State Rep. Seth Berry, a Bowdoinham Democrat, says Maine's legislative system of electing constitutional officers invites comparisons to the national electoral college that elects the president.

"It's a winner-take-all system like the electoral college," Berry says. "We in the majority party, whichever party it is at the time, makes the choice for all intents and purposes. We do have an election together afterwards."

And there's a new majority party in town here at the State House. Unofficial results from Tuesday's balloting show that voters opted to erode the Republican majority they had authorized only two years ago. Now, Democrats will be calling the shots and among their very first actions next month will be the election of new constitutional officers.

And while the current Republican incumbents in those jobs are not precluded from running, chances are pretty good that Secretary of State Charlie Summers, Attorney General Bill Schneider and state Treasurer Bruce Poliquin will be cleaning out their desks.

Several prominent Democrats have already made it clear they intend to apply for those positions, including Portland attorney Jeremy Fischer.

"I always felt that the treasurer's position, in terms of policy making, was the biggest and most important position, even if it's not the most high profile, because of the work with finances, the work with investments through bonds, and then all of the boards and commissions that the treasurer sits on, from Dirigo Health to the retirement system, Maine State Housing, the Finance Authority of Maine," Fischer says. "There's some real great opportunities to work on public policy."

Fischer, a former state representative from Presque Isle and House chairman of the Appropriations Committee, is a strong proponent of independent state constitutional officers who are not motivated by political relationships, such as who the majority party is at the State House.

That's a position also shared by Tim Shannon, a Portland attorney and consultant to legislative candidates, who is making a bid for attorney general. Shannon knows there are Democrats who have been critical of actions undertaken by the current attorney general William Schneider that seemed to be carried out in concert with Republican Gov. Paul Lepage.

"The AG is not the Governor's lawyer and has independent duties and independent responsibilities to look out for the best interests of the people of Maine," Shannon says. "Now that usually lines up with cooperatively working with the agencies and defending them and representing them, and that's the bread and butter work. But it's important to remember that the AG's office has it's own professional non-partisan judgement to bring to bear."

Shannon will be challenged for the AG's post by Janet Mills, who formerly held the position under the Democratic majority two years ago. Mills, the current vice-chair of the Maine Democratic Party, says that after helping Maine Democrats win back their majorities in the House and Senate she is anxious to return to public service.

"I've had mangement experience, which I hope to put back into use, as head of the state's largest law firm, the Attorney General's Office," Mills says. "I want to pick up the ball and continue where I left off, in the areas of domestic violence and prescription drug abuse and trafficking."

Former Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap also hopes to reprise his role as Maine Secretary of State that he held prior to 2010. He says Mainers expect consistency and fairness from the secretary of state, and that efforts by current GOP Secretary Charlie Summers to end same-day voter registration -- an action that was repealed by voters a year later - sent the wrong message.

"You have to keep things very much in balance," Dunlap says. "And the policy approach, especially with things like repealing election-day registration, for example, I think showed a lack of balance in that approach."

Dunlap will be challenged by state Rep. Brian Bolduc, an Auburn Democrat.



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