AUGUSTA – Here we go again.
The upcoming inauguration of Gov.-elect Paul LePage is stirring a bit of confusion around the State House over what number the Republican gets in the succession of Maine chief executives.
Is he governor No. 70? No. 74? Something in between?
LePage’s team is politely walking away from the debate as his Jan. 5 swearing-in approaches.
“Rather than create uncertainty or create a historical record that’s inaccurate, we just decided to drop the designation of the number,” said Brent Littlefield, LePage’s senior political adviser and inaugural director.
Inaugural planners had created graphics describing LePage as Maine’s 74th governor, based on outgoing Gov. John Baldacci’s inaugural materials calling him the 73rd.
But after contacting state historian Earle Shettleworth Jr., the state law library and Baldacci aides, they learned that not everyone agreed on what the number should be.
There was a similar wave of uncertainty eight years ago when Baldacci was being inaugurated.
Thousands of invitations sent out for the formalities called the Democrat Maine’s 73rd chief executive. That was fine, except it put him out of sync with the man he succeeded, independent Angus King, who was documented as No. 70.
For those wonks who noticed, the discrepancy was explained as the result of quirky span in the early 1950s when Burton Cross became acting governor while awaiting inauguration after being duly elected. For some obscure reason, he stepped down for a 25-hour period before taking the oath, causing a hiccup that left two short terms uncounted. So instead of becoming No. 71, Baldacci was declared No. 73.
But as time went on, historians started scratching their heads again.
Delving into the matter over the last few months, Shettleworth determined the confusion over numbers wasn’t the result of the series of successions in the 1950s, but rather events in the 1830s and 1840s when Maine was still a young state.
According to Shettleworth’s research, posted online by the Friends of the Blaine House, Govs. Edward Kent, John Fairfield and John Dana served their terms, and were returned to office by voters.
That was more likely to happen in that era because governors only served one-year terms, Shettleworth explained.
His list shows that 69 men have served as governors of Maine, making LePage — let’s be careful, now — No. 70.
“Whether a man served for a day or eight years as they do now, they are accounted for,” said Shettleworth.
While some may consider Shettleworth’s research the final word, there’s no official arbiter.
Some may count different individuals who have served; others, such as the state law library, go by terms of office.
The gubernatorial numbers conundrum has puzzled politicians for decades.
When Joseph Brennan was inaugurated for his second term in 1983, the program billed him as Maine’s 69th governor, while news reports insisted he was the 68th.
In the 1990s, King’s Web page and some news reports called him the 71st governor, even though the state register listed him as No. 72.