January 8, 2013

State agencies revert to Democratic control

The new top officials are not seen as outspoken partisans, but they will differ with Gov. LePage.

By Steve Mistler smistler@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — Democrats took charge of three state agencies Monday after being sworn into office by Gov. Paul LePage.

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Incoming Attorney General Janet Mills is applauded by Maine Senate President Justin Alfond, second from right, Speaker of the House Mark Eves and Maine Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Leigh Saufley during Monday ceremonies at the House of Representatives.

Photos by Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

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New Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, right, greets Maine Senate President Justin Alfond, left, after being sworn in to his post Monday in Augusta by Gov. Paul LePage.

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Attorney General Janet Mills and Secretary of State Matt Dunlap returned to the posts they left in 2010 when Republicans took control of the Legislature.

Mills became the state's top lawyer, replacing William Schneider.

Dunlap replaced Charlie Summers, and now oversees elections and a state bureaucracy that includes the Division of Motor Vehicles, the business corporations division and the Maine State Archives.

The other constitutional officer sworn in Monday, state Treasurer Neria Douglass, replaced Republican Bruce Poliquin.

The constitutional officers are elected by the Legislature and are in that branch of government.

The three Republican officers who stepped down Monday forged activist reputations and were closely aligned with the Republican agenda advanced by the Legislature and LePage.

Poliquin especially elevated the profile and partisan tenor of an office that typically went unnoticed.

The three new officers aren't regarded as outspoken partisans, although it was clear Monday that they will differ with the LePage administration and Republicans at times. 

Dunlap, who was secretary of state for six years before leaving office in early 2011, said some of his work will include furthering initiatives that involved Summers.

For example, Summers created a small-business advocate office. Dunlap said he supported the office when Summers proposed it two years ago, and he still does.

"We may be able to expand this and get people to think in ways that they don't think about themselves," said Dunlap. "Maybe we can get individuals to think about starting their own business and maybe help with that."

On the other hand, Dunlap has different views on voters' access and ballot security.

He oversaw the implementation of the 2002 Help America Vote Act, a federal law designed to create ballot security and voter-access standards in each state.

Dunlap said Monday that while ballot security issues persist, he does not envision a voter identification law -- a measure supported by Summers and Maine Republican leaders.

"We always get questions about the outcomes of an election," he said.

"We're able to answer 99.9 percent of those questions with a phone call. I don't see us moving forward with a photo ID initiative. ... You'd be pushing too many people away from being able to exercise their right to vote."

Dunlap said he doesn't plan to engage in politics even if it means disappointing his party.

"I have a D after my name, so you know where I am politically on any issue you want to talk to me about," he said.

"But the nature of my work cannot be partisan. ... I can't emphasize that enough, especially because the work we do involves elections."

He said, "Sometimes it can be very difficult and painful and risky to say no to your friends, but you have to do it because there's a public trust issue there. Nothing would make me happier than to leave office as a trivia question: Who was that guy?"

Monday's swearing-in ceremony was relatively low key, but political squabbles may loom.

LePage supported Attorney General Schneider's fight against the federal health care law, and Schneider pushed to get federal approval for LePage's proposed cuts in the state's Medicaid program. It's unlikely that Mills will participate in such efforts.

Mills, who became Maine's first female attorney general when she was elected in 2009, joked Monday that she is living proof that Mainers believe in recycling.

(Continued on page 2)

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