Here’s a question for three of Maine’s constitutional officers as each closes his eyes and sees his name on the November ballot to replace Olympia Snowe in the U.S. Senate:

How much is it worth to you?

No, I’m not jumping on the Democratic bandwagon and calling for Attorney General William Schneider, Secretary of State Charlie Summers and state Treasurer Bruce Poliquin to resign immediately as they launch their primary campaigns for the Republican Senate nomination.

We’re talking, after all, about a 10-week blitz aimed only at Maine’s Republican voters — a mere 28 percent of the electorate. My guess is that Schneider, Summers and Poliquin can make their cases to that crowd and still keep the trains running on time back at their day jobs.

But what if one of them wins the nomination come June 12?

Can the GOP Big Three assure Maine citizens with straight faces that they can spend the next five months fulfilling their constitutional duties (not to mention accepting a state paycheck), while campaigning 24/7 in a Senate race that has national attention (not to mention huge money) written all over it?

Or should they simply step up and tell us right now that in exchange for the GOP nomination, they’ll gladly give up their day jobs?

Let’s take them one by one.

Attorney General Schneider makes $96,860 a year presiding over a department with a total operating budget of $28.6 million and 272 employees.

Asked Thursday if he’d a) keep his day job or b) resign or take an unpaid leave of absence should he win the GOP primary, Schneider chose c) I’d have to think about it.

“If I am fortunate enough to win the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate, I would have to give careful consideration to how best to balance my constitutional obligations with the demands of a statewide U.S. Senate campaign,” Schneider replied in an email. “While it is far too early and presumptuous to have a final plan, talking to legislative leaders in both parties would be a big part of my deliberative process.”

Schneider also said he’d seek advice from former Gov. Joe Brennan and Jim Tierney, both Democrats who ran for governor while serving as attorney general — Brennan won in 1978, while Tierney lost in 1986.

So let’s call Schneider, at least for now, a “maybe I’ll step down … and maybe not.”

Next up is Secretary of State Summers. He makes $72,727 a year, sits atop budgets totaling just over $36 million and oversees 414 fellow state employees.

Summers’ wife, Ruth, (a candidate for state Senate) said Thursday that she’d ask her husband about his post-primary plans and get back to me. Haven’t heard a peep since.

But in a comment to MPBN radio Wednesday, Summers said he sees no reason to step down at this point “because I believe this will be about time management and it’s about the division of responsibilities” among his division heads.

So let’s say Summers, if he emerges victorious from the primary, will … become a slave to his smartphone?

Then there’s state Treasurer Poliquin, who pulls down $69,264 a year in salary, administers a budget of just under $1.9 million and has 14 people who call him boss. Poliquin also has to worry about those billions in state debt obligations and, of course, the future of the Maine State Housing Authority.

All of which, according to Poliquin, already has him maxed out.

In an interview with WGAN radio back in February, amid questions about whether he’d run afoul of a constitutional ban on private-sector moonlighting, Poliquin made it eminently clear that this state treasurer gig is pretty much all he can handle.

“It doesn’t pass the straight-face test for someone to say that the treasurer of the state of Maine, who’s spending 80 to 90 hours a week working for the people of Maine, can also be self-employed,” Poliquin said at the time. “It doesn’t pass the straight-face test.”

So would the same apply to a full-time U.S. Senate race?

“I will get this to him and get back to you after he finishes work at the Treasurer’s office today,” emailed Tyler Harber of The Prosper Group, a national political consulting firm that’s handling Poliquin’s media calls.

Never heard back. Apparently Poliquin never finishes work.

State Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, was secretary of state back in 1994, when he ran what he now admits was a half-hearted primary campaign for Maine’s 1st District congressional seat. (He finished second in a field of four to Duke Dutremble of Biddeford.)

Diamond told MPBN this week that his fellow Democratic lawmakers need to “let it go” when it comes to the GOP Big Three multi-tasking their way through the primary. But in an interview Thursday, he said a constitutional officer running in the general election Senate race would be a whole different matter.

“We know this is going to be a $10- to $12-million race,” Diamond said. “And if you’re going to be in this thing to win, I’m guessing that the powers that be in the Republican Party are going to insist that this person, whoever it is, be willing to not only run full time, but all the time.”

What would Diamond do if, as secretary of state, he found himself running statewide for the U.S. Senate?

“I’d resign,” he replied.

Easier said than done, to be sure.

For starters, there’s nothing like the stature of a constitutional office to keep one’s name in the news — witness AG Schneider’s widely publicized trip to Washington, D.C., this week for the U.S. Supreme Court arguments on the Affordable Care Act, or Secretary Summers’ recent news release reminding Mainers (ahem) to vote in the June primary, or Treasurer Poliquin’s latest email blast Monday, titled “Moving Forward at Maine State Housing Authority.”

There’s also, for what it’s worth, the paycheck. Assuming Schneider, Summers or Poliquin wins the six-way race for the GOP nomination and then runs full time for five months, taxpayers would still pay the nominee just under a half-year’s salary for not much more than clinging to his title.

State Sen. John Patrick, D-Rumford, who led this week’s unsuccessful charge to crack down on that kind of thing, said hitting the campaign trail while your name plate remains on your empty desk would be just plain wrong.

“They’re going for one of the most prestigious jobs in America. This is the Super Bowl for these guys,” Patrick said. “I really think the Republican Party will expect nothing less than full effort.”

Even as Maine taxpayers, in exchange for a full day’s pay, expect nothing less than a full day’s work.

 

Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at [email protected]