New But Familiar Attorney General & Secretary of State and New Treasurer
Thursday, December 06, 2012 5:51 AM
The Democratic majority in the Maine Legislature officially nominated their candidates for the offices of Attorney General, Secretary of State, State Treasurer, and State Auditor at a joint convention of the House and Senate on Tuesday, December 4. Despite challenges from Republican nominees, all four candidates were confirmed by the full Legislature when the 126th Legislature was sworn in the following day. Former Attorney General Janet Mills has reclaimed her seat in the A.G.'s office, Matt Dunlap has returned to the office of Secretary of State, former State Auditor Neria Douglass will take the helm as State Treasurer, and principal auditor Pola Buckley was elected as State Auditor.
Janet Mills, Now AG
Hailing from a prominent Maine political family, Janet Mills is no stranger to state politics or to getting along with the other party. Mills, a Democrat, comes from a long line of Republicans, starting with Mills' grandfather Sumner Peter Mills Sr. of Stonington, who served in the House and Senate back in the early 1900s, followed by her father, S. Peter Mills Jr., who served five terms between 1939 and 1970. Her brother Senator S. Peter Mills III has long been a strong centrist voice in the Maine Republican Party, both as a State Senator and two-time gubernatorial candidate. While the Mills men have been known for their Republican politics, some of the Mills women have gone the other way. Janet's mother, the late Kay Mills, told the Associated Press in 2005 that she was a registered Republican because "everybody was (one) in Aroostook County when I was growing up" Later she switched to the Democratic Party, where her daughters, former State Health Director Dora Mills and Janet Mills, have found a home.
Janet Mills, who most recently worked as an attorney for the law firm Preti Flaherty and currently serves as vice-chair of the Maine Democratic Party, has practiced law for over 35 years, including as the first woman District Attorney in New England. She hit the statewide political scene in 1994, running in the Democratic primary for Congress. She lost to John Baldacci, but decided to run for Attorney General later that fall, which she lost by a narrow margin. After serving six years in the Legislature representing Farmington, Mills was finally elected as Maine's first female A.G. in 2008.
Mills says her first priority as the A.G. will be public safety. "You're the chief law enforcement officer in the state, so some of [the position] is reactive," says Mills. "You don't know what's going to come up. Prescription drug abuse, domestic violence, financial crimes."
Mills says that foreclosure relief will also be on the radar. She points to a multi-state litigation suit she joined in her first term against Bank of America following a scandal involving GMAC Mortgage LLC's "robo-signing" of affidavits in foreclosure cases. She also says that welfare fraud, both by providers and consumers, will continue to be a priority. She says the Democratic-led Legislature could have been more aggressive on this front, which left the issue open for Republicans to win on in 2010. Mills says she will also fight federal trade deals that put Maine businesses at a competative disadvantage and will work on implementing the Affordable Care Act, which her predecessor vehemently opposed.
Although Mills admits that working in between Governor LePage and the Democratic Legislature in a highly partisan atmosphere is a "delicate thing," she says she's more than happy to work with anyone in the governor's office and the administration. "I'm also happy to stand up to people and tell them they're wrong," she says. "If the governor wishes to make a move that is unwise, inappropriate or illegal, I will tell him so."
Matt Dunlap, Secretary of State, Once Again
Matt Dunlap has probably the most colorful background of any of the newly elected officials, having worked as a textile worker, fur trapper, publishing editor, radio talk-show host, cook, waiter, bartender, executive director of the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine, and of course, a former Secretary of State.
"I never had any interest in politics," says Dunlap. "It was one of those things where I sort of stepped in a hole and ended up in wonder land."
Dunlap, who holds a master's degree in English from the University of Maine, was working as a cook at the university in the early 1990s, when a student on the staff told him she was forced to drop out because she couldn't afford the last installment of her tuition bill. Dunlap said he decided to shop the idea of an emergency scholarship program for such students to the administration and, after not getting anywhere, pitched the idea to local state representative John O'Day. A friendship was forged with O'Day and eventually the legislator convinced Dunlap to run for a seat himself in 1996. Dunlap did and represented Old Town for three terms, chairing the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee as well as the Government Oversight Committee. When he couldn't run again due to term limits in 2004, Dunlap ran unopposed for Secretary of State.
The duties of the Secretary of State vary by state, but Maine is one of three states that assigns the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, as well as the Bureau of Corporations, Elections, and Commissions, and the State Archives to the Secretary of State. With 450 employees, Maine's Secretary of State has one of the largest workforces of any Secretary of State in the country.As for how his tenure will be different from the previous office holder, Dunlap says Secretary of State Charlie Summers is "a gentleman," but that his biggest problem was "his inability to say no to some of his friends." Dunlap says the Legislature and Summers were doing the bidding of Charlie Webster, chair of the Maine G.O.P. at the time, when they tried but ultimately failed to repeal election-day registration. According to Dunlap, that initiative damaged Summers' credibility with voters. Dunlap says he will work to make it easier for voters to cast ballots rather than try to restrict access to the voting booth.
Although there will be budget challenges, Dunlap says one of his main goals for his next term will be to figure out a way to store electronic records in the archives.
"More information has been created since 2005 than in all of human history leading up to 2005," says Dunlap. "If we don't get our hands on this, we stand a distinct possibility that we could have the greatest informational catastrophe since the burning of the library at Alexandria."
Dunlap says much of what we know about Maine history is through archived data and if we don't figure out a way of storing all of the digitized information, such as correspondence and other government documents, we risk losing the information of an age. Dunlap says that Maine is not alone in facing this challenge and he will join other states in figuring out a solution to the problem.
Neria Douglass Replaces Poliquin
Neria Douglass traces her interest in finace back to her days as an attorney prosecuting fraud cases. After a stint on Auburn's School Committee and chairing the Auburn City Council, Douglass served three terms in the state Senate from 1998 to 2004. She was then elected as state auditor, where she just finished the maximum term of eight years. It was during her 2005 bid for state auditor that a controversy arose over Douglass not being a certified public accountant and not having had any formal auditing experience. Legislation was submitted to require the state auditor to be a certified public accountant, but it was narrowly defeated in the Democratic-led House. Douglass did later pass the Certified Internal Auditor Exam.
As the state's top money manager, Douglass says she intends to focus on analyzing revenue projections and current state finances to get the most reliable information, but with more focus on positive trends than departing former Treasurer Bruce Poliquin.
"When the governor said, we don't have enough revenue coming in, as he did for one of the budgets last session, the treasurer could provide information about what's happening and what historically has been happening," says Douglass. "I intend to do that, to get real information. In addition, the treasurer speaks with the bond rating agencies, and [Poliquin] diminished the value of the Maine economy. Clearly we have our issues and we want to grow faster, but in focusing on the negative I think he hurt it."
In addition to revenue and bond monitoring, the State Treasurer also serves on 14 boards, including the state employee retirement system, the Dirigo Health Agency, and Maine Housing Authority.
Douglass says one of her top priorities will be on releasing the bonds approved by voters, but held up by Governor LePage due to his belief that the state can't afford to borrow any more.
"I think that's wrong and I'm going to work to see what authority I would have as the treasurer to try to make that happen," says Douglass. "It might even just be the court of public opinion, but there might be a legal basis to it."
With the so-called "fiscal cliff" looming in Washington, a protracted political battle over bonds, and a budget shortfall, Douglass, the governor, and the Legislature have their work cut out for them.