LePage wants to replace Maine secretary of state with lieutenant governor

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AUGUSTA — Republican Gov. Paul LePage wants to get rid of the secretary of state position and replace it with a lieutenant governor.

The duties of the secretary of state, from running elections to licensing drivers, would come under the lieutenant governor, who would also be first in the line of succession to replace the governor.

The governor’s office confirmed it is drafting legislation that would not only make that change to the state Constitution, but would also change how two other constitutional officers are appointed.

LePage wants the governor, not the Legislature, to appoint the attorney general and state treasurer.

LePage has had many disagreements with the current attorney general, Janet Mills, who was appointed by a Democratic-controlled Legislature.

Although the bill has yet to be submitted, the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting confirmed its rough outline with Peter Steele, the governor’s director of communications, and with Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap.

Maine is one of five states without a lieutenant governor. In states with lieutenant governors, they are first in the line of succession to be governor if the governor dies in office or vacates the office. In Maine, the Senate president would assume the governorship if the governor left office prematurely.

The changes would require an amendment to the state Constitution. That can only be accomplished with two-thirds approval of the Legislature and majority approval by voters at the ballot box.

Jodi Quintero, communications director for Speaker of the House Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, said “the Speaker takes any kind of constitutional change seriously and would want to see the details of the bill before providing judgment.”

Dunlap said LePage told him about the bill while Dunlap was being sworn into office on Jan. 8. “He said, ‘What I’m going to put in this legislation would basically replace the secretary,’” Dunlap said.

The lieutenant governor and governor would run as a team on the ballot, Dunlap said.

The other states without lieutenant governors are Arizona, New Hampshire, Oregon and Wyoming. In West Virginia and Tennessee, the senate president is also the lieutenant governor.

Lieutenant governors have different responsibilities depending on the state, said Julia Hurst, executive director of the National Lieutenant Governors Association.

“The only thing that all lieutenant governors do is succeed the governor should that have to take place,” she said.

In some cases, lieutenant governors preside over the senate, but in others they spearhead investigations, manage elections or head state initiatives. Utah and Alaska are examples of states that have replaced their secretaries of state with lieutenant governors, Hurst said.

Maine has at least twice considered creating a lieutenant governor. Bills were introduced in 1994 and 1995, but both were defeated in the House.

Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting Editor-in-Chief John Christie contributed to this story. MCPIR is a nonpartisan, nonprofit news service based in Augusta. Email: pinetreewatchdog@gmail.com.