The Maine House of Representatives today voted 60-80 against initiating an impeachment inquiry into Secretary of State Shenna Bellows for barring former President Donald Trump from the state’s presidential primary ballot.
UPDATE:— The Maine Wire (@TheMaineWire) January 9, 2024
The effort to impeach Maine's Secretary of State Shenna Bellows has FAILED, with the House voting 60-80 in opposition. pic.twitter.com/Vfw0RsMK3B
Rep. John Andrews (R-Paris) filed a resolution last week that, if approved, would have initiated an impeachment inquiry into the Secretary.
Sponsored by Rep. Andrews, the resolution stated that impeachment action was being brought against Secretary Bellows due to “grave and serious allegations” concerning her conduct and orders that a House Special Investigative Committee be “established to investigate allegations of misfeasance, malfeasance, nonfeasance and other misconduct” by Bellows.
Following its “review and investigation,” the committee would have been required to submit its “findings and recommendations” — including any potential articles of impeachment — to the House no later than January 31, 2024.
In her decision, Bellows argued that the “unprecedented and tragic” events of January 6, 2021 “occurred at the behest of, and with the knowledge and support of, the outgoing President,” thereby disqualifying him from the ballot under Section Three of the Fourteenth Amendment — a Civil War era provision originally aimed at preventing former confederates from holding office.
“The oath I swore to uphold the Constitution comes first above all, and my duty under Maine’s election laws, when presented with a [challenge], is to ensure that candidates who appear on the primary ballot are qualified for the office they seek,” Bellows said in her December ruling.
During today’s House proceedings, representatives from both sides of the aisle offered comments on the order initiating an impeachment inquiry into Bellows.
Several Republican members of the House underscored their views that the Secretary lacked the authority to disqualify Trump from ballot and that her decision was fundamentally motivated by partisanship.
Republican representatives also emphasized what they believe are the dangers of Bellows’ decision, suggesting that it took away the right and freedom of Maine voters to select the candidate of their choice.
Democrats who spoke today primarily argued that Bellows was carrying out her statutory obligations as Secretary of State and should not be impeached for doing so.
Many Democrats also implied in their comments that a dissatisfaction with the outcome of the Secretary’s decision is, in consideration of this impeachment inquiry, being conflated with an evaluation of Bellows’ conduct itself.
One Republican lawmaker reminded her colleagues in the House that they were not tasked today with answering the question of whether or not Bellows ought to be impeached, but rather with determining if an investigative committee should be established to look into the potentially-impeachable allegations which have been made against the Secretary.
In a roll call vote of 60-80, the House then defeated the effort to open an impeachment inquiry into the Secretary’s conduct related to her decision to remove Trump from Maine’s presidential primary ballot.
At the start of Rep. James E. Thorne (R-Carmel) argued that “this decision that our Secretary of State has mde does nothing but further divide the political banner between the parties and indeed the people of the State of Maine.”
“Secretary of State Shenna Bellows has done what no court in American history has done before,” Rep. Thorne said. “She’s found someone guilty without a formal charge or court proceeding and issued her sentence. Her sentence is to attempt to remove former President of the United States Donald Trump from the Maine presidential primary ballot.”
Thorne went on to accuse Bellows of “voter suppression” and “suppression of free speech,” arguing that her decision “disenfranchise[d] half of Maine’s voters.”
“I would merely make the prediction that nothing will come of this other than our proceedings here today,” Thorne concluded, “and I would strongly urge the Secretary of State to use more caution going forward in her words, her tone, and her actions while claiming to represent the entire citizens of Maine.”
HAPPENING NOW:— The Maine Wire (@TheMaineWire) January 9, 2024
The impeachment hearing into Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows has begun in the Maine House of Representatives. pic.twitter.com/be3mq7wByg
Rep. Katrina J. Smith (R-Palermo) also spoke in favor of the order, arguing that the Secretary is charged only with determining if a presidential candidate meets the Article II qualifications for office and obtained the requisite number of signatures to appear on the ballot.
“She overstepped her duties when she declared Donald Trump unqualified to be on the presidential primary ballot,” Rep. Smith said. “She overstepped her bounds by listening to testimony that was so obscenely biased that it brought people to tears in that hearing which I sat through.”
“There has been no crime. There has been no impeachment. There has been no conviction in a court of law,” Smith said. “She is not a judge. She is not a jury.”
“I believe that the people feel absolutely disenfranchised, and she has done a great disservice to the State of Maine and to the opinion of how elections are run,” Smith concluded.
Rep. Michael Soboleski (R-Phillips) — the representative who filed a letter of intervention in favor of the former president during the Secretary’s proceedings in December — also spoke in favor of an impeachment inquiry.
In his comments, Rep. Soboleski referenced Section Five of the Fourteenth Amendment, which reads:
The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.
According to Soboleski, this clause “clearly states that Congress has authority over the Fourteenth Amendment.”
Soboleski also argued in his statement that Bellows ought to have recused herself from adjudicating the challenges filed against the former president on account of the fact that she served as an elector for President Joe Biden in 2020.
“Due to this fact, she cannot be considered by any rational standard an impartial arbiter of the hearing she presided over,” Soboleski said. “The hearing that ultimately from her decree alone barred Donald Trump from the 2024 presidential election against the 2020 candidate for whom she was an elector.”
“Secretary Bellows should have done the ethical thing and publicly stated that in 2020 she was an elector for [President Biden] and recused herself from this hearing,” Soboleski said. “She unilaterally disenfranchised at least 360,00 voters from their vote — their right to choose — both Republicans and unenrolled Independents.”
Rep. Kevin O’Connell (D-Brewer) then offered comments in opposition to the impeachment inquiry, suggesting that Bellows was fulfilling her statutory obligations in issuing her decision to remove the former president from the state’s ballot.
“Every government official has an obligation to follow the law and fulfill their oath to the constitution,” Rep. O’Connell said. “That is what Secretary Bellows did.”
“We should not punish her by removing her from office for simply doing her job,” O’Connell concluded. “She did what was required of her in following the challenge proceedings as laid out in law.”
Rep. Adam Lee (D-Auburn) also spoke in opposition to the order, arguing that the complaints which have been leveraged against Bellows ought to be directed toward, and solved by, the legislature.
“Your quarrel is not with her, its with the state legislature in 1985,” Rep. Lee said. “I’ve heard persistent cries that this case, this issue, belongs in front of a court. I agree. Guess what — it is!”
“All of the complaints I’ve heard thus far regarding the Secretary’s decision are ones that will have, will be, and actually have been forwarded by the former president in the proper venue — courts,” Lee said.
“If we are displeased that the first stop in the process was the Secretary of State, it’s this body that can change that,” Lee concluded. “Not through impeachment, but through law.”
Rep. Edward J. Polewarczyk (R-Wiscasset) then provided comments in favor of the inquiry, expressing concern that Bellows’ decision to remove Trump from the state’s ballot jeopardized Mainers’ freedoms.
“Here in Maine, we are no longer free to vote for whom we choose,” Rep. Polewarczyk said. “I can’t believe I just said that here in this chamber. Never in my wildest nightmares would I have dreamed that we here in Maine would be prevented from voting for the candidate of our choice.”
“Whether it stands or not, does not change the fact that the Secretary of State has taken it upon herself to prevent us — the citizens of Maine — from voting for the candidate of their choice,” Polewarczyk said. “That vote is fundamental to our being free.”
“For decades, we have had our freedoms nibbled away,” Polewarczyk concluded. “This is a big bite out of our rights.”
One of the most powerful arguments in favor of impeaching Secretary Bellows came from Rep. Polewarczyk:— The Maine Wire (@TheMaineWire) January 9, 2024
"If allowed to stand, we are no longer free." pic.twitter.com/g2YFCdWAgy
Rep. Joseph F. Underwood (R-Presque Isle) equated Bellows conduct to “election interference” and argued that the Secretary “had no authority, regardless of what has been said,” to remove Trump from the state’s ballot under Section Three of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Rep. Laura D. Supica (D-Bangor) focused her comments on Bellows’ character and her work concerning the state’s election process, suggesting that the Secretary’s gender has impacted the “scrutiny” she faces.
“I’ve seen secretary Bellows show up to committee meetings on time again and again, facing extremely challenging materials, personalities, and questions, and still she continues to deliver thoughtful and transparent responses,” Rep. Supica said. “It is through this lens that I have gained an even deeper appreciation for the Secretary’s work ethic and commitment to service.”
“When Secretary Bellows was sworn into office to her first term in 2021, she was the first female Secretary of State in Maine’s history,” Supica said, “and it is not lost on me that the scrutiny she receives is different than what her male predecessors were subjected to.”
“Throughout her time in office, she has gone above and beyond to carry out her duties with integrity and professionalism, often working across the aisle to ensure our democracy is strong,” Supica asserted. “She has a proven record as a public servant who stands up for free and fair elections.”
Rep. James Lee White (R-Guilford) then read aloud Section Five of the Fourteenth Amendment, reemphasizing that Congress — not a Secretary of State — is vested with the authority to enforce the Fourteenth Amendment, including Section Three under which Bellows disqualified the former president.
Following this, Soboleski again stood to offer comment, this time referencing the timeline along which Bellows issued her decision, suggesting that the Secretary’s delay prevented the former president from filing as a write-in candidate because she did not formally announce his disqualification from the ballot until after the deadline for write-in candidates has passed.
Rep. Laurel D. Libby (R-Auburn) then spoke in favor of the inquiry, emphasizing that the chamber’s vote today did not center around the question of whether Bellows ought to be impeached, but rather if the House should create a committee tasked with investigating allegations of misconduct that have been made against the Secretary.
“I’d like to clarify that voting in support of this order is not voting in support of impeaching Secretary of State Shenna Bellows, it is voting in support of following the process and determining through the House Special Investigative Committee as to whether cause exists for impeachment,” Rep. Libby said.
“Let’s do our duty in the House in handling the allegations raised against Secretary of State Bellows,” Libby said. “We are not trying impeachment in the House of Representatives today.”
“The question today is whether the House Special Investigative Committee should be established to investigate this separate and distinct issue — apart from whether Trump should be on the ballot or not” Libby concluded.
Rep. Maureen Fitzgerald Terry (D-Gorham) closed out the comment period by reiterating a point that had already been made by several Democrat lawmakers, suggesting that Bellows was following the law when she blocked the former president from appearing on the state’s ballot.
“Simply making this decision, while it might not be popular for some, is not engaging in partisan politics,” Rep. Terry said,” and most importantly, does not meet the high threshold for removal from office via impeachment as outlined in the me constitution.”
“Her actions do not constitute sufficient grounds for removal from office,” Terry concluded.
The House then took a roll call vote on the order to initiate an impeachment inquiry into Bellows, defeating the resolution 60-80.
“I’m disappointed that the Democrat majority closed party ranks to protect the Secretary of State that they installed,” Rep. Andrews, who sponsored the order to initiate an impeachment inquiry into Bellows, told the Maine Wire.
“The Democrats wouldn’t even vote for a bipartisan Investigative Committee to fact find if Shenna Bellows did anything wrong,” Andrews said. “I think today showed that Democrats have been in power for way too long and feel that they can do whatever they want without repercussion.”
“It’s time to be faithful to our Constitutions and take our state back in November,” Andrews concluded.
Last week, Bellows publicly denounced the efforts to bring articles of impeachment against her.
“It’s absurd, and I don’t think it’s lawful under Maine’s constitution to bring impeachment of an elected official for doing their job and upholding the constitution and the rule of law,” Bellows said Sunday on WGME. “But honestly, I think it’s a gambit to distract from disagreement over an issue and this process.”
Although impeachment efforts against the Secretary have now come to a close, an official ethics complaint against Bellows filed earlier this month by Soboleski for her failure to recuse herself from the proceedings still remains open.
Soboleski’s letter to the Maine Ethics Commission requested an official hearing concerning these allegations as soon as possible.