Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Imagine it's the morning of Wednesday, Nov. 7 -- the day after Election 2012.
President Obama has squeaked past challenger Mitt Romney.
The Republicans have held on to their majority in the House of Representatives.
But in the oh-so-close battle for control of the U.S. Senate, it's all come down to the great State of Maine.
Independent Senate candidate Angus King, after months of bombardment from GOP SuperPACS, is locked in a too-close-to-call standoff with Republican opponent Charlie Summers. High-priced lawyers of every political persuasion are flooding into the Portland International Jetport for an inevitable recount overseen by Maine's top election official.
Also known as Secretary of State Charlie Summers.
Impossible, you say? Let's go to Maine Revised Statutes, Title 21-A, Chapter 9, Subchapter 3, Article 3, which deals with "Post Election Procedure -- Inspection and Recount."
There, you'll find 18 separate references to "Secretary of State" as the person who supervises the long and potentially contentious procedure for sorting through the aftermath of a squeaky-close election.
Including this catch-all: "The Secretary of State is authorized to adopt rules governing the conduct and procedures for a recount."
Think about it, fellow voters. As things now stand, could Candidate Summers petition Secretary of State Summers for a recount this November? And as Candidate Summers waits anxiously for the results, could Secretary of State Summers be on the other side of the rope calling the shots?
It's but one of several reasons why Summers' decision to hang onto his $72,727-a-year day job while running to replace U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe is, shall we say, complicated.
For starters, there's the only-24-hours-in-a-day factor, which prompted also-ran Bill Schneider to announce last month that if he won last week's Republican Senate primary, he'd immediately resign as Maine's attorney general.
"It simply will not be possible to give my constitutional office the attention it needs while running a winning, statewide campaign for the United States Senate," Schneider explained at the time.
Summers, on the other hand, now maintains he can do both -- in addition to having accrued an estimated five weeks vacation time, he said in an interview Friday, he also works a lot on weekends.
A case in point: On Saturday, Secretary of State Summers (not to be confused with Candidate Summers) spoke at the American Legion's annual statewide convention in Bangor.
"The fact is I'll go there and I won't discuss any campaign or political issues," Summers explained the day before the event. "I'll talk about the issues I've worked on as secretary of state."
Good luck with that, Mr. Secretary/Candidate.
Although, to be fair, this is not the first time a Maine secretary of state has moonlighted as a major candidate: Ken Curtis occupied the secretary's office when he ran successfully for governor in 1966, as did Mark Gartley when he unsuccessfully challenged Snowe for the 2nd District seat in 1978.
But that was then -- and this is now.
As Summers put it in a fundraising appeal sent out to supporters this weekend, "We're in the process of preparing the war machine: setting up offices, expanding our volunteer operation, and putting together the best campaign team in Maine."
All of that while simultaneously presiding over a department with a $36 million annual budget, three distinct bureaus and 414 employees?
Beyond his weekly time sheet, we have Secretary of State Summers' control over the same ballot on which Candidate Summers will appear.
Consider the eyebrows raised last week when Secretary of State Summers released the wording for this fall's same-sex marriage referendum. His proposed question -- "Do you want to allow same-sex couples to marry?" -- troubled same-sex marriage proponents because it fails to mention that churches would be exempted from the law.
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