Commentary

Popular Election of Attorney General Makes Sense for Maine

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In a bipartisan push for reform, Maine Sen. Andre Cushing III (R-Penobscot County) and Maine Rep. Justin Chenette (D-Saco) have proposed amending the Maine Constitution to elect the attorney general by popular vote. For the attorney general to better serve the people of Maine, it is in Maine’s best interest to adopt this provision and hold the attorney general directly accountable to the people.

While Maine currently elects its attorney general through the state legislature, the rest of the country uses other methods. The Maine Constitution states that the attorney general will be elected every two years by the state legislature. According to the National Association for Attorneys General (NAAG), forty-three states hold a popular election for their attorney general. Five states, including New Hampshire and New Jersey, allow the governor to appoint an attorney general, either to serve at the will of the governor, or with term limits. The federal government allows the president to appoint the U.S. Attorney General. Lastly, Tennessee’s attorney general is appointed by the Tennessee Supreme Court, but that is because the state’s constitution designates the office as part of the judiciary.

An attorney general needs to be chosen by the body of government its duties represent. In Tennessee, the attorney general is a judicial officer, and is therefore appointed by the Tennessee judiciary. In states where a governor appoints them, the attorneys general primarily serve as a prosecutor for the state. Prosecution of crimes is considered an executive power, as it seeks to enforce the laws that were broken. Therefore, it makes sense for the state’s governor, the head of a state’s executive branch, to appoint an attorney general.

Maine’s attorney general is chosen by the state legislature, so that must mean the position’s duties are primarily legislative and deal with making laws, right? Wrong.

Because the position works for the governor, state legislature, state agencies, and the state itself, the attorney general must be accountable to all of these offices, and the best way to make sure of this is to have the attorney general elected by the people. According to its website, the Maine attorney general has a variety of duties, including representing the state in lawsuits, prosecuting crimes on behalf of the state, and advising the governor, legislature, and agencies on questions of law when requested. Prosecuting crimes is a duty affiliated with the executive branch, and by representing the State in lawsuits and giving legal advice, the attorney general serves both the executive and legislative branches, as well as the interests of Maine’s citizens.

Because the position serves all these people, the attorney general should be chosen by the people he or she represents. To make this happen, the position should be voted for by the people of Maine in a popular election. The position represents the state, and by representing the state the attorney general represents the interests of its citizens. What better way is there to have an attorney general who represents the interests of Maine citizens than by having the position filled by a direct vote from the people? The governor and legislature also represent the people and are chosen by popular election, so why not the attorney general as well? By subjecting the position to a popular vote, the attorney general will better represent the people of Maine.

A popular vote would hold the attorney general accountable to the people he or she represents, and would hopefully result in less gridlock than our current system. The current feud between Governor LePage and Attorney General Mills has become highly publicized and highly combative, which each showing direct disapproval of the other. Attorney General Mills even went so far as to write a brief against the governor in the recent decision in the Maine Supreme Judicial Court regarding the relationship between the two offices. If the two offices were chosen from the same group of people, there is a good chance there would be less conflict, and the Maine government could run more efficiently.

By holding a popular election for Maine’s attorney general, the selection process will better reflect the duties of the office and Maine citizens will be able to choose someone who truly represents them.

About Nathan Hitchcock

Nathan Hitchcock is currently a law student at the University of Maine School of Law and volunteers as a researcher for the Maine Heritage Policy Center. Prior to law school, he attended Hillsdale College in Michigan, where he earned a B.A. in Political Economy.

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