Next month, Maine will have a new attorney general, as state Rep. Aaron Frey steps into the position that’s being vacated by Gov.-elect Janet Mills.

At 39 years old, Frey will be the youngest person to get the job since 34-year-old James Tierney took the oath in 1981.

We know that Frey has been a lawyer in Bangor and a three-term legislator with experience on the Appropriations Committee. We know that he was elected without opposition in a joint convention of the House and Senate, after he was nominated in a five-way contest inside the Democratic caucus Tuesday.

But there’s a lot we don’t know – starting with who voted for him and why.

Maine has a unique system of selecting its attorney general, the top law enforcement official in the state. Instead of holding elections, as 43 states do, or having the governor appoint the attorney general, as most of the others do, Maine has its Legislature elect the attorney general, which, as a practical matter, means the position is filled by whichever party is in the majority. A party caucus vote, not the one in a joint session of the Legislature, is the real election.

Consequently, there is almost no public campaigning for the job. Most of the electioneering is done in person, on a one-to-one basis. Those conversations are not held in public, so the public doesn’t know what was said.

Judging from history, Maine’s system seems to working. Legislators vote for people they know personally, almost always current or recent members of the House or Senate. Looking at the records of Mills and predecessors like G. Steven Rowe and William Schneider, it’s hard to see how the state would have been better served by directly elected officials. An appointed attorney general would definitely not have been as independent from the governor as Mills has been from Gov. LePage.

But the process doesn’t need to be so opaque. Lawmakers, who have to register their “yea” or “nay” for establishing a state cheese, are allowed to go off the record when selecting what may be the second most powerful person in state government. No Maine citizen knows who their senator or representative supported in the party caucus unless they track them down and ask them. And even then, the legislator would not be required to say.

It doesn’t make much sense, and it would be easy to fix. If lawmakers wanted to make this process more transparent, they wouldn’t have to change the Constitution. All they would have to do is change their rules. Instead of a secret ballot, senators and representatives could stand up and be counted, as they are with other important votes.

And legislators should want to make the process more transparent. People should know who the attorney general is and how he or she got the job.

Frey will have to introduce himself to a large part of the state now, which would have been a much easier task if his election followed a more public campaign.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.