Regardless of whether or not you think Jan. 6 constituted an insurrection or agree with Secretary of State Shenna Bellows’ decision to bar former President Donald Trump from appearing on the Republican primary ballot this year, one thing is clear: Maine needs a new way of selecting its constitutional officers.

For some reason, the Pine Tree State is the only state in the country where all constitutional offices are selected by lawmakers rather than voters or by gubernatorial appointment with Senate confirmation. Every other state trusts its people or its chief executive to make these decisions.

The result in Maine is an insulated, opaque, who’s-who of usually termed-out, sometimes wholly unqualified former lawmakers in important public offices. It has to stop.

During Gov. Janet Mills’ tenure alone, three separate controversies have embroiled these offices.

In 2020, the Maine Legislature selected Matthew Dunlap to serve as the next state auditor. Admittedly, Dunlap had zero qualifications to serve in this capacity. State law requires the auditor to be a certified public accountant or a college graduate with six years of experience as a professional accountant or auditor. Dunlap possessed none of these credentials.

As a result, Dunlap had to take courses and pass a series of exams to obtain an internal auditor credential that would make him eligible for the position. Unfortunately, he did not obtain one in the time allowed by state law and was forced to vacate the position to Jacob Norton. Upon finally earning the certification in the winter of 2022, Dunlap was reappointed to the position after Norton resigned. Are we to believe nobody else in the entire state was qualified to serve in this capacity when Dunlap – a former lawmaker and secretary of state with no auditing experience – was selected to fill the role?


Last April, Maine learned that Attorney General Aaron Frey – another former lawmaker handpicked by the Legislature – was involved in a “personal relationship” with a subordinate employee at his office. The relationship lasted for eight months before Frey disclosed it to his office or to the public at large, and it wasn’t until journalists caught a whiff of the scandal that Frey felt it necessary to make the disclosure.

Though the policy that governs relationships between bosses and subordinates within state government requires the disclosure of affairs like the one in which Frey was engaged, because he served as attorney general and was not a member of the executive branch, it was determined the policy didn’t apply. Lucky him.

Any ethical, rational thinking person would have disclosed a relationship like this soon after it began. But because Frey’s office is insulated by the Legislature, he faced no real consequences for his “error in judgement,” as he called it.

Fast-forward to late December and the current secretary of state, Shenna Bellows – a hyperpartisan former lawmaker who also coincidentally served as a presidential elector for President Biden – deciding whether or not Biden’s chief opponent can have access to the ballot in Maine.

One has to wonder if Bellows would make the same decision if she was accountable to Maine voters rather than her friends in the Legislature. Better yet, one has to wonder if Bellows would be the secretary of state if the position were popularly elected. Considering her poor showing against Sen. Susan Collins in the 2014 election, she’s by no means a shoo-in among Maine voters.

At some point, we have to stop and ask ourselves why our constitutional officers are so seemingly surrounded by scandal and what we should do about it. For several consecutive legislative cycles, lawmakers have balked at, and flat-out rejected, attempts to allow Maine people to elect these offices. Frankly, whether it’s by popular election or gubernatorial appointment with Senate confirmation, either method is better than what Mainers get today.

Changing the way our state selects its constitutional officers is an idea whose time has come. These offices and the work they perform should be relatively uncontroversial. In Maine, it’s been anything but.

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