AUGUSTA  —  The state Senate rejected a request by a Democratic lawmaker Wednesday that would have required new rules for Maine constitutional officers who run for higher office.

Sen. John Patrick, D-Rumford, said he believes there’s a public “perception problem,” now that all three of the state’s constitutional officers are running for the U.S. Senate seat that will open up with the retirement of Sen. Olympia Snowe this year.

Attorney General William Schneider, Treasurer Bruce Poliquin and Secretary of State Charlie Summers are seeking the Republican nomination for the seat. In Maine, constitutional officers are chosen by the majority party in the Legislature.

“It’s not illegal, but there is a perception problem,” Patrick said during Senate debate. “Constitutional officers should be apolitical.”

Last week, Schneider, Poliquin and Summers told The Portland Press Herald that they are taking steps to ensure that their campaigns don’t conflict with their day jobs. All three said they would use vacation time, evenings and weekends to run their campaigns.

Summers said he has asked his deputy in the Secretary of State’s Office, Julie Flynn, to oversee elections.

During the Senate debate, Republicans noted that several Democrats who served as constitutional officers in the past ran for higher office.

“I don’t recall a single display of raw partisanship on the floor of the Senate in response to their candidacies,” said Senate President Kevin Raye, R-Perry.

Patrick’s request for a bill to set guidelines for constitutional officers who run for higher office was rejected last week by legislative leaders. On Wednesday, he put forward a joint order to the entire Senate. The proposal was defeated 21-12.

Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, who ran for Congress while serving as secretary of state in 1994, said it would be a good idea to set guidelines. But, he said, the issue can wait until next year, when a new Legislature is seated.

“To do it now doesn’t strike me as fair,” he said.

Sen. Richard Woodbury, an independent from Yarmouth, said he would welcome consideration of rules for constitutional officers. But he voted to reject the request to do it this year.

“The timing, to me, feels just a little too politically motivated,” he said.

In addition to Summers, Poliquin and Schneider, former Senate President Rick Bennett, state Sen. Debra Plowman and businessman Scott D’Amboise are seeking the Republican nomination.

In the Democratic race, state Sen. Cynthia Dill, state Rep. Jon Hinck and former Secretary of State Matt Dunlap are seeking their party’s nomination.

Former Gov. Angus King, an independent, has also declared his intention to run.

 

State House Writer Susan Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at:

[email protected]