We’re about to find out who will be Maine’s next attorney general

5 years ago

Good morning from Augusta. One of the most uncertain Maine elections of 2018 is taking place today at the State House, where legislative Democrats will meet in the afternoon to nominate candidates for constitutional offices, including in a five-way race for attorney general.

Maine is the only state that allows the Legislature to elect those offices, and Democrats’ romp in the November election won them 110 of the 186 seats in both chambers, so they’re in the driver’s seat to select the attorney general, state treasurer and secretary of state.

That makes today’s nominating election — not the formal one on Wednesday in which the full Legislature will elect the candidates — the big one. But there is still plenty of uncertainty in the attorney general’s race. Here’s where things stand.

The five candidates for attorney general underscore a revived interest in the office in an active time for Democratic lawyers. The new attorney general will replace Gov.-elect Janet Mills, the Democrat who served as the top law enforcement official for eight years. Six were shared with Gov. Paul LePage, the outgoing Republican who often pushed the boundaries of executive power. Mills, from the second-most powerful statewide position, often fought him.

For the first time in six years, one party will control all of state government. That happened alongside a national push from Democratic attorneys general to fight the policies of President Donald Trump in court. For example, Maryland is leading a lawsuit against Trump’s appointment of an acting U.S. attorney general and Mills has joined several other similar suits.

The five Democratic candidates for attorney general are Rep. Aaron Frey of Bangor, Maeghan Maloney, the district attorney in Kennebec and Somerset counties, Sen. Mike Carpenter, a former attorney general from Houlton, outgoing Sen. Mark Dion of Portland and Tim Shannon of Yarmouth, a patent lawyer and partner at Verrill Dana.

All of them want to improve relations with Maine tribes and most are subtly pushing a more active role for the office. Those are nods to past — and now only hushed — criticism of Mills from her left during the gubernatorial primary where she fended off more liberal challengers.

The race seems to be wide open, though Democrats largely aren’t tipping their hands before today’s election. Frey is an influential member of the House, where most of the votes are. Maloney has a network in her link to Emerge Maine, a group that helps elect Democratic women. Carpenter has done the job. Dion is backed by progressives and the Sierra Club. Shannon, the only Augusta outsider in the race, has driven Democratic candidates around the state for a few years.

The Daily Brief sent a survey on the races to all 110 Democrats yesterday. Only 10 responded by this morning, making it relatively meaningless. But for the record, Dion was picked first by three Democrats, while Frey, Carpenter and Maloney were picked first by two each.

Shannon wasn’t picked first by any of them, but he was picked second by three people — more than anyone else. That’s important, since Democrats will use a form of ranked-choice voting to pick their nominee. If no one wins a majority in the first vote, the last-place candidate will be eliminated and that will be repeated until a majority is won.

The other two races are less interesting, but one could have an outside chance at upset potential. Secretary of State Matt Dunlap is running unopposed for a fourth term, which would be his last because of term limits. Former state Rep. Henry Beck, D-Waterville, is challenging State Treasurer Terry Hayes, a Buckfield independent who won two terms in nominally Democratic-controlled legislatures by winning Republican support and siphoning enough Democrats.

Her road to re-election is tougher this year with stronger Democratic control, though two of the seven Democrats in our survey who said that they have made up their minds on treasurer said they back Hayes. We’ll see on Wednesday if there are more out there.

LePage won’t swear in new Legislature

In a break from tradition, the governor will not swear in new lawmakers on Wednesday. LePage spokeswoman Julie Rabinowitz said Monday that the governor will not perform the ceremonial swearing in of new lawmakers in Augusta, as he has in the past. The duty will fall to Chief Justice Leigh Saufley of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. The Maine Constitution requires that each new Legislature be sworn on the first Wednesday in December, regardless of whether the governor administers the oath.

Rabinowitz didn’t say why LePage won’t be there, but he may attend the funeral for former President George H.W. Bush in Washington, D.C., where he was spotted Monday. The governor has directed the closure of all non-essential state offices Wednesday as part of the National Day of Mourning. It will not affect the introduction of the 129th Legislature.

LePage’s absence will reduce the chance for political intrigue on Wednesday. The last time the Democrats won control of both chambers — in 2012 — LePage used his swearing-in speech to blast the Democratic Party for assigning a tracker to follow him. While he has been mostly diplomatic in paving the way for the transition to Mills’ governorship, he’s had a hard time in the past resisting the opportunity to use these kinds of events to take partisan jabs at his opponents.

Reading list

— Maine’s 2nd Congressional District recount is set to begin Thursday and will likely last into the new year. The November race saw outgoing Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin lose his seat to Rep.-elect Jared Golden, a Democrat. The two-term Republican lost by a margin of more than 1 percent. That means he’ll have to pay for the hand recount after it’s conducted by Dunlap’s office unless the results swing in Poliquin’s favor, which is unlikely. Poliquin is simultaneously challenging the race’s outcome and the constitutionality of ranked-choice voting in federal court. U.S. District Court Judge Lance Walker is scheduled to begin hearing arguments in the case Wednesday. The recount will break for the week during the week of Christmas and resume Jan. 3, 2019.

— The public squabbling between Belfast’s mayor and city councilors is the latest chapter in the city’s long history of political elbow throwing. As city officials prepare for another meeting this evening, the recent conflict between Mayor Samantha Paradis and city councilors summoned memories of past Belfast political dustups. Early in the 20th century, Mayor Edgar Hanson used to hold victory parades that went past the homes of his political foes. In 1982, Mayor Stetson Hills told city councilors that they could “take this job and shove it” when he resigned in the midst of a public feud over firing the city manager. To date, the current controversy has been less dramatic, with a council vote to withdraw from the Maine Mayors Coalition being the major flashpoint.

— The parent company of the utility that provides electricity to Bangor and most of northern Maine is selling assets, including a plant in Rumford. Emera Inc. executives told financial analysts on Nov. 9 that it is too expensive to get equity financing for new projects, so the company planned to cut costs internally and sell off some business assets — including the Rumford Power gas-fired generation plant — to pay for them. Emera Maine raised transmission and delivery rates July 1, but did not get the full amount of the rate increase it had originally requested, which parent company officials cited as one reason for lower-than- expected revenues. Emera Maine still has plans to spend $75 million this year in the state, mostly for transmission and distribution system upgrades.

Pee and queues

For the well-hydrated traveler, long walks in romantic European cities pose a major challenge.

Public toilets are scarce, and most of the public accommodations that are available charge a fee to pee. It’s hard to take a leisurely stroll to drink in the scenery when frantically searching for an appropriate outlet for everything else you’ve been drinking in.

Earlier this year, Paris tried to address the problem by adding outdoor urinals, which city officials have dubbed “uritrottoirs.” Necessity made me somewhat of an expert on them during our recent visit to the City of Lights. It was a great relief — in more ways than one — to find them strategically situated at key points along a 14-mile walk that my wife and I took along the Seine. Options varied from a simple utilitarian metal trough [Pro tip: Find an upstream spot] to a fancy red receptacle that provided nutrients for a patch of herbs that seemed to be thriving, especially for November.

But the concept has stirred a wee bit of controversy. It’s not that the French have some sort of puritanical objections to al fresco urination. After all, they do share drops of the same gene pool with the Quebecois drivers who gained notoriety during my youth for spontaneously pulling over onto the shoulders of Maine highways and byways to “water the plants” whenever the need struck.

No, the problem in Paris rests with the lack of “Egalite” in the application of “Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite” to this form of public service. For while these amenities offer timely relief for men, no similar accommodations are available for women.

It’s a valid concern, but I’m just going to zip my lips and let the French work it out. Here is your soundtrack— Robert Long

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Michael Shepherd, 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.

To reach us, do not reply directly to this newsletter, but email us directly at aacquisto@bangordailynews.com, mshepherd@bangordailynews.com or rlong@bangordailynews.com.

This article originally appeared on www.bangordailynews.com.