Maine is the only state in the nation that allows the Legislature to elect its attorney general, and that vote is scheduled for this Wednesday. But since only Democrats are vying for the position, the winner will actually be the party nominee, and that will be decided on Tuesday.
Five candidates have been campaigning for the post, crisscrossing the state in an effort to win over Democratic lawmakers in advance of the vote. In the wake of last month’s election, Democrats have big majorities in both the Maine House and Senate, which is why Republican leaders have said they aren’t planning on even nominating any candidates for attorney general.
Among the Democrats vying for their party nomination us Portland state Sen. Mark Dion, who announced this past June, shortly after losing in the Democratic gubernatorial primary. Dion says he has several policy issues that he would push if elected attorney general.
“The ownership of groundwater, we need to move to put that in the public trust. I think as climate change advances, how we manage that commodity,” he says.
Dion has a long career in law enforcement, including a stint as Cumberland County sheriff. Like all of the candidates, he praises current Attorney General Janet Mills for her management of the office, but says priorities will change when Mills becomes governor and is no longer spending a lot of time battling Gov. Paul LePage in court.
Bangor state Rep. Aaron Frey, a defense attorney, is also seeking the nomination. Frey has served on the Appropriations Committee and says he sees new opportunities for reform on the horizon.
“We are going to see some significant efforts in the Legislature for criminal justice reform. The attorney general is in a prime position to help move that conversation and talk about different ways that we can be more compassionate,” he says.
And Frey says he expects that the new attorney general will also be working alongside other state attorneys general on lawsuits aimed at protecting federal environmental laws from being weakened by the Trump administration.
Yarmouth attorney Tim Shannon says that would be a top priority for him, if elected. Shannon is a partner at Verrill-Dana, one of the state’s largest law firms, and says his considerable private litigation experience will be helpful as attorney general.
“My focus is going to be on tweaking policy, making sure that the office has an active, effective, professional, forward-looking posture. I think the challenges we are coming into now require a thoughtful, balanced, progressive approach,” he says.
Shannon is the only person in the race who doesn’t hold a public office.
Maeghan Maloney was just re-elected as district attorney for Kennebec and Somerset counties, but says she was encouraged to run for attorney general by several of her former House colleagues. She says the way that Maine’s attorney general position is chosen, as laid out in the state constitution, provides an added degree of independence.
“That is a unique position that we have given to our attorneys general, and it’s one that I think is very important at this moment of time, this moment in history is what makes that position so important,” she says.
Like the other candidates, Maloney believes that a top priority will be joining other states in legal efforts to protect federal environmental laws.
Houlton state Sen. Mike Carpenter was also just re-elected for another term in a district that traditionally leans Republican. He served as Maine’s attorney general from 1991 to 1995 and calls it the best job he ever had.
Carpenter says if he is elected, he’d focus on any number of emerging issues.
“I want to take another look at joining some of the other attorneys general who are suing big pharma over the opioid crisis. I know there is some climate litigation out there that’s being pushed by some states and I want to take a look at that.”
Carpenter points to his lengthy private sector experience and his four years as attorney general to make a case for why he stands out from the field.
All five candidates say they believe the next attorney should take steps to improve the state’s relationships with its Native American tribal communities. They all say there are sovereignty issues posed by the tribes that should be reviewed.
Originally published Dec. 3, 2018 at 3:38 p.m. ET.