Politics & Other Mistakes: Konstitutional kookiness

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There is no more exciting event on the political calendar than the biennial bash known as The Choosing of a Bunch of Schmoes to be Constitutional Officers.

Supporters of the various contenders for these positions often take to the streets to set off fireworks, loot liquor stores, and burn their opponents in Effigy and other small Maine towns with creepy names.

For those of you with better things to do than pay attention to these festivities (like helping Gov. Paul LePage pack up his belongings for his impending escape to Florida), here’s a brief primer explaining what this is all about.

Maine’s constitutional officers are the attorney general, secretary of state, state treasurer, potato potentate, lobster princess and king of skidders. Unlike in most states, where such positions are filled by the voters or by gubernatorial appointment, Maine’s constitutional officers are chosen by a method that has almost nothing to do with democracy. They’re elected by the Legislature. Or to be more precise, by the majority party in the Legislature. By which I mean the Democrats.

On Dec. 4, the Dems will hold a joint caucus of House and Senate members to choose their nominees. The Republicans will do likewise, but to no real purpose because their token candidates start at a numerical disadvantage and end up as chum. Much the same system is used in China and North Korea, only with less cruelty.

There’s little drama concerning the race for secretary of state. Matthew Dunlap is the incumbent, and nearly everybody likes him, except U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin – and Brucie doesn’t get a vote. So, that’s settled.

The current state treasurer is Terry Hayes, an independent and failed gubernatorial candidate. Hayes, a former Democrat, grabbed the job in a closely divided Legislature by convincing the minority GOP to support her, while luring just enough votes from disgruntled Dems, thereby really annoying the bosses of her old party. The Legislature is no longer closely divided, and Hayes is likely to pay for her disloyalty by being replaced by former legislator Henry Beck of Waterville. Or not. Who cares?

The real contest is for attorney general. Janet Mills, who holds the job now, has been elected governor, so the race is wide open. There are five Democratic contenders to replace Mills, all of whom would be a lot more entertaining if they were parading around in tutus in hopes of being chosen lobster princess. But they’re all fixated on becoming AG, so let’s make the best of it.

State Sen. Mike Carpenter of Houlton actually served as AG long ago, possibly when Maine was part of Massachusetts. Carpenter might be considered a contender to reclaim his old office, except for one problem. His Senate district is heavily Republican, and if he resigns, his replacement would almost certainly be a member of the GOP, thereby reducing the Democrats’ majority in the upper chamber. Hardly worth it.

State Sen. Mark Dion of Portland managed to run for governor without anybody noticing. That lack of electoral appeal will negatively impact his chances of filling a post generally regarded as a stepping stone to higher office.

State Rep. Aaron Frey of Bangor is a current House member, which isn’t a bad thing to be if you’re looking to win votes from other current House members. Frey is young, smart, energetic and might be just the sort of politician the Democrats will need in the future – if it weren’t for one small flaw. He’s got testicles. As do the other AG contenders – with one exception.

Maeghan Maloney of Augusta is the district attorney for Kennebec County, a former legislator and somewhat more liberal than her competition. With a record number of women in the Dem caucus, she’ll appeal to those reluctant to replace Mills, Maine’s first female AG, with a man.

Tim Shannon of Yarmouth is a partner in a Portland law firm and has been active in several campaigns. Rumor has it he’s run for AG before, although no one seems to remember that. For some unknown reason, his press photo is in black and white and appears to show him sucking on his fingers. Or somebody’s fingers. It’s hard to tell.

Have fun not voting. Or join me in looting a liquor store.

Among other things, I made up that part about a town named Effigy. It’s actually called Desperation. But I’d be in Euphoria if you emailed me at aldiamon@herniahill.net.

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