The Attorney General’s Office has issued new guidance that members of state committees cannot run for state elective office, prompting at least one legislative candidate to step down from the Human Rights Commission days before winning a legislative primary election.

Former Portland City Councilor Jill Duson resigned from the commission last week after the Mills administration reversed course and advised her that she no longer could serve as a member while seeking elected statewide office. Duson easily won the primary Tuesday.

Duson sought advice about her committee post from the governor’s office before she announced her candidacy and was told she could continue to serve while she campaigned for state Senate based on what it said had been the historical practice. Duson had said she planned to resign from the commission if she won the election.

But after receiving inquiries from a reporter and a labor attorney about Duson and another legislative candidate, Democrat Joseph Hanslip, the Attorney General’s Office issued an opinion last week that a state law barring state employees from seeking statewide political office applied to members of state boards committees. The AG determined that members cannot run in a partisan public election, but could run in nonpartisan local elections such as for town councils or school boards.

“Running for elective office may create a conflict of interest between the board member’s role as a state official and the member’s role as a candidate for elective office,” Assistant Attorney General Katie Johnson said in a June 8 memo. “If you plan to run for elective office, other than a local office, please consider withdrawing from the election or resigning your board position to avoid such a conflict of interest.”

Hanslip, who did not face a primary opponent Tuesday, said in an interview Wednesday that he had just notified the Secretary of State that he had withdrawn from the House race. But he said the decision has nothing to do with the AG’s opinion.


“One really has nothing to do with the other,” he said. “I’ve decided not to run because this is not a good time. I want to run someday, when I can put more time and effort into the race. And now is not a good time.”

Maine Republican Party Executive Director Jason Savage said in a statement last week that the issue “appears to be yet another example of Janet Mills’ inability to run state government.”

Mills’ spokeswoman Lindsay Crete said the governor’s office asked the attorney general to look into the issue after receiving inquiries. She said the administration’s advice to Duson was based on “a longstanding, but erroneous, understanding of the law that candidates for state elected office may serve on boards or commissions and only must resign from them once elected.”

Crete pointed to other recent examples in which Republican candidates did the same thing, saying Shawn Moody ran for governor in 2018 while serving on the University of Maine Board of Trustees and the Maine Community College Board of Trustees, Heidi Sampson ran for state representative in 2016 while serving on the State Board of Education and the Maine Charter School Commission, and Ken Fredette ran for state representative in 2010 while serving on the Human Rights Commission.

Crete defended Mills’ management. “The governor inherited a long neglected set of boards and commissions upon taking office, and, since then, she has appointed more than 2,000 dedicated and accomplished Maine people to serve,” Crete said.



Duson resigned from the commission last Thursday. But the decision was not publicly announced. It was revealed Monday when Amy Sneirson, the commission’s executive director, updated the board about Duson’s status during an executive session the board entered to discuss pending litigation. Executive sessions are supposed to be closed to the public, but the board’s meeting continued to be broadcast online.

Sneirson confirmed Duson’s resignation to the Press Herald following the meeting. Duson did not participate in the meeting.

“The Office of the Attorney General informed Ms. Duson and our agency last week that it received one or more queries about political activity by members of state boards or commissions,” Sneirson said in an email Monday. “After reviewing what has been a longstanding interpretation of Maine statutes that members of boards or commissions are not employees of the state, the AG’s Office advised that it had come to the conclusion that some portions of Maine statute regarding state employees’ political activity do also apply to some governor-appointed members of boards or commissions.”

Duson said in an interview with the Press Herald last month that she had talked with the governor’s office about her candidacy and would resign if elected. She recounted her previous conversations with the administration about her candidacy in her resignation letter to the governor last week.

“Your guidance at that time, following your consultation with the Governor’s Counsel, was that if successful in the election, I should resign from the Commission,” she wrote. “I now understand that in response to an inquiry, the administration has reviewed and reconsidered this advice. Per that revised advice, I hereby tender my resignation from the Maine Human Rights Commission, effective immediately. Please convey to the Governor my appreciation for the opportunity to serve.”

Hanslip, of Sanford, ran unopposed in the Democratic primary for House District 142. He would have faced Republican Pamela Buck, of Sanford, this fall.

A spokesperson for the Secretary of State said the office had not yet received Hanslip’s letter. Once it’s received, Democrats will be able to choose another candidate during a caucus.

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