These Democrats want to be Maine’s next attorney general

6 years ago

Good morning from Augusta. With Attorney General Janet Mills moving from the state office building to the Blaine House after last week’s election, legislative Democrats are facing a five-way intraparty race to replace her, featuring candidates with a broad range of experiences.

They include a state senator and former attorney general, two other sitting legislators, a top patent lawyer from one of Maine’s leading firms and a district attorney for two counties. That roster hasn’t changed since we checked on the race in June. What has changed is that we know that Mills will need a replacement.

Democrats already hold two of Maine’s three constitutional offices. Candidates are nominated by their parties and elected by a majority of the two legislative chambers combined. After the election, Democrats will hold 110 of 186 seats, putting them in a position to control the offices.

That will happen in early December, but these races for statewide positions are months and years in the making, even though voters don’t really get to weigh in on them. Here’s where these under-the-radar races stand now.

Most of the candidates — in different ways — want to push the attorney general’s office in a more aggressive direction. The five Democratic candidates for the position are state Sen. Mike Carpenter of Houlton, a former attorney general, Rep. Aaron Frey of Bangor, Sen. Mark Dion of Portland, Tim Shannon of Yarmouth, a partner at Verrill Dana, and Maeghan Maloney of Augusta, the district attorney in Kennebec and Somerset counties.

The structure of the office is unique. While the attorney general’s spot has historically been held by politicians with a prosecutorial background, the office runs on the backs of career lawyers and is largely nonpartisan. It prosecutes homicides and other major crimes, but most of its work is in civil law.

Democrats are buoyed now by Mills’ election and their strong majorities in the Legislature. But much of Mills’ primary bid for governor was dominated by her opponents pushing her from the left on her record as attorney general.

During the campaign, Indian tribes and progressives assailed Mills for her role in legal fights over tribal water rights. Three candidates — Carpenter, Frey and Dion — mentioned improving relations with tribes in interviews this week. You can expect to hear others subtly delve into ways they differ from Mills.

Carpenter, Frey and Maloney would be the most traditional picks for the office. Dion and Shannon are pitching different directions. Having held the office from 1991 to 1995, Carpenter would be an old-school pick for the office. Frey runs a solo practice in Bangor, but he’s in the Maine House of Representatives, where 89 of the 110 Democratic votes lie. Maloney is a former legislator with ties to Emerge Maine, an influential group in Democratic circles that helps women get elected.

Mills’ office has joined many legal fights against the administration of President Donald Trump and these Democratic candidates largely expect that to continue, making the job potentially more politically visible than it has been in the past.

Carpenter noted that many of the lawyers that he worked with in the office are still there and said Mills has done “a first-rate job.” Frey said he wouldn’t expect “a radical departure” from Mills, but that he would try to take more aggressive roles in fighting opioid addiction and consumer protection. We couldn’t link up with Maloney for an interview, but she said in a voicemail that she’d “be honored to serve.”

Dion, a former Cumberland County sheriff, was the first to announce his run for attorney general earlier this year. He has pitched criminal justice reform and said taking about “suing Trump” isn’t sufficient and “there’s enough work to do in our own yard first.”

Shannon, a top patent lawyer who ran against Mills in 2012 for the position, said he envisioned “a active, forward-looking and professional” office under his watch, saying it could expand its role in fighting Trump and the pharmaceutical industry.

House Republicans pick leaders

A smaller Republican caucus in the Maine House of Representatives has a new leadership team. The incoming 57 House Republicans elected Rep. Kathleen Dillingham of Oxford to serve as minority leader. Rep. Trey Stewart of Presque Isle will take over as assistant minority leader. It’s no coincidence that they hail from some of Maine’s most rural, reddest regions.

Dillingham, who will be serving her third term representing District 72, succeeds Ken Fredette, the termed-out representative from Newport who led House Republican for six years in which the caucus generally aligned with Republican Gov. Paul LePage to frustrate majority Democrats in the House and often stall legislation that House Democrats and the Senate had backed. With fewer House Republicans and the loss of many of the caucus’ more prominent members to term limits or Senate runs, Dillingham will lead a regrouping effort. As Mills prepares to move into the Blaine House and Democrats control both branches of the Legislature, Dillingham won’t have an ally in the executive branch, so she will face the challenge of wielding drastically diminished power.

Stewart, who will be serving his second term representing District 147, will replace Rep. Ellie Espling, R-New Gloucester, who served four years as assistant minority leader before losing a Maine Senate bid last week. Stewart has been perceived to be a potential Republican leader since he was first elected two years ago. Still only 24, he epitomizes a new generation of rural conservatives upon whom Maine Republicans must rely to offset the increasing political might of Democrats from Portland and the state’s southern and coastal progressive enclaves.

Mills names chief of staff

A Democratic Party insider will become the chief of staff for Maine’s next governor. In her first significant appointment since winning the Nov. 6 election, Mills announced Wednesday that Jeremy Kennedy will serve as chief of staff for her administration when she takes office in early 2019.

Kennedy, a Portland resident, took over as Mills’ campaign manager in September. A former executive director of the Maine Democratic Party who led Hillary Clinton’s campaign in Maine in 2008, he has done advocacy work for Planned Parenthood and Emerge Maine.

Mills will hold a news conference this afternoon to announce the formation of an executive search committee to help her find candidates to fill Cabinet positions and other executive-level state jobs. There are about 150 political appointments to be made.

Reading list

A winner might finally be declared today in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District election. Though a judge’s ruling that could alter the outcome of the 2nd Congressional District election is expected today, Maine’s secretary of state said his team will continue counting ranked-choice ballots in the meantime. Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, at a Dirigo Speaksevent Wednesday night hosted by the BDN, said his objective — completing the tally — hasn’t changed in spite of the lawsuit Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin filed against him earlier this week. Dunlap, who said getting sued is part of his job, expects his team to finish counting ballots around noon today, with the complete race results coming shortly after. Here is your soundtrack.

A development boom in Brunswick has spread beyond the boundaries of its former Navy base. Formerly vacant downtown storefronts have been filled as new commercial development takes place on the former base, which the Navy left in 2011, and elsewhere in town. Recently, new residential development plans have been hatched to augment the conversion of former Navy housing to civilian use.

Police believe a Bangor man’s death was a homicide. Detectives are looking for Donald Galleck, 29, for questioning in connection with the death of Jason Moody, 40, of Bangor. Moody was found unconscious at about 10:40 p.m. Sunday at the intersection of Center and Cumberland streets. He died from his injuries Tuesday afternoon.

Disgusting gelatinous creatures are showing up in Maine waters. Add sea squirts — a variety of small, tube-like marine creatures that live bunched together in colonies — to the list of species that seem to be thriving in the warming waters off the Maine coast. Marine scientists say that the gelatinous animals have been growing in number in shallow waters along the coast and could be creating problems for native organisms that are getting squeezed out of their traditional habitat on the bottom.

The Ides of November

It’s Nov. 15 and people are already getting into a lather because forecasters predict Maine will get blasted with a bunch of snow on Friday.There’s no need to panic. If you are out of practice, make a cup of cocoa, settle into a comfortable chair and let our favorite weather person in the world, Frankie MacDonald of Sydney, Nova Scotia, run through the drill for you. Then add a great big swig of your favorite relaxation agent to the cocoa and turn up the volume on this public-service soundtrack from our favorite banjournalist in the world, Troy R. Bennett. [Yes, we know that’s not a banjo.] — Robert LongToday’s Daily Brief was written by Alex Acquisto and Robert Long. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to receive Maine’s leading newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings. Click here to subscribe to the BDN.