It’s the start of a new term of the Maine Legislature, which means lawmakers have the task of selecting the state’s new constitutional officers. Henry Beck will remain the state treasurer and Aaron Frey will remain Maine’s attorney general. Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap is termed out of service and will now take over as state auditor, despite having no qualifications for the job.
On Tuesday, Maine Democrats selected Sen. Shenna Bellows as their nominee to replace the outgoing Dunlap, and on Wednesday a joint convention of the legislature elected her to the position. She is the first woman to serve as secretary of state in Maine’s history.
We wish Bellows well in her new role, and Mainers of all political stripes should give her a fair shake as she assumes this office. However, we’d be remiss not to highlight how wasteful it was for her to run for this position.
Sen. Bellows was the incumbent senator running for reelection in Senate District 14 during the general election held on November 3. She ran a “clean” campaign, meaning she did not privately finance her candidacy and instead relied on Maine taxpayers to foot the bill.
According to MaineCampaignFinance.com, Sen. Bellows received $74,150 this year in Maine Clean Elections Act funds to fuel her campaign. She repaid the hardworking taxpayers of Maine by running for secretary of state and vacating the public office she won with public money just a matter of weeks ago.
Maine taxpayers had $74,150 taken from them so that Sen. Bellows could run for and win an office that she is immediately vacating, which means a special election must be held to replace her.
It’s unclear why Bellows felt it was necessary to run for secretary of state this time around. She competed for the office with three outgoing Democratic lawmakers who are termed out, and who many expected would land Dunlap’s gig. She’s undoubtedly qualified for the post, you just wouldn’t expect someone to give up a Senate seat so soon after winning it to pursue a different office.
What is clear, however, is that she showed little regard for Maine taxpayers in running for the new position. The $74,150 she received to run for reelection this year is a drop in the bucket compared to what the state spends annually, but every penny counts in a tight budget year due to the pandemic.
My two cents for current and future lawmakers: If you’re going to run for public office only to vacate the seat less than one month after winning it, please don’t make Maine taxpayers pay your way to the State House.
Fortunately, we can solve this dilemma by changing the way Maine selects its constitutional officers. Instead of the party in power perpetually handing these important positions to former lawmakers, Maine voters should get the opportunity to elect them. Then Bellows would have to run for either state senator or secretary of state.
That, or allow the chief executive to appoint these positions with Senate confirmation. Either option is better than the system we have today.