State Senate representation for Hancock County towns? Not in this session. Governor Janet Mills initiated the process of filling the seat vacated by Louie Luchini on Jan. 18, but it is going to be a slow roll.
It is the Governor’s job to kick it off with a proclamation officially announcing the vacancy. Governor Mills did that on Jan. 26, signed it, sealed it and delivered it to Shenna Bellows for the requisite Secretary of State’s signature. The proclamation begins with a cheery “Greetings” before wending its way through a series of “whereases” that describe the requirements for filling the seat.
In addition to declaring the vacancy, the Governor ordered a special election in accordance with the Maine Constitution, further ordering “the appropriate political committees” to meet and choose their nominees. In this instance, the appropriate political committees are the “Democratic, Green Independent, Libertarian and Republican” party committees, the four that have qualified for official party status in Maine.
The party committees may make their own meeting arrangements, but the names of their nominees must be “filed in the Office of the Secretary of State on or before 5:00 p.m. on Wednesday, February 16.” Names of potential candidates have come and gone since the vacancy occurred, but by Feb. 16 the field will be fixed.
Write-in candidates have their own rules to follow. They have until Feb. 23 to file a declaration of a write-in candidacy. Independents may run by petition; certified signatures must be filed by the same deadline as party nominees, the end of the day on Feb. 16.
The next step for the special election is where the irony comes in. The state Constitution provides that the vacancy “shall be filled by an immediate election in the unrepresented district…” For Hancock County, the Governor has proclaimed the “immediate election” will take place at the time of the June 14 primaries, almost five months away. The selection of nominees will occur in short order, but it will be four months more before the vacancy is filled, five months since the vacancy occurred.
The 130th Legislature is scheduled to adjourn on April 20. Hancock County’s newly elected senator will have a whole lot of nothing to do from June to November when a new Legislature is elected. In the meantime, as hundreds of bills are considered over the next few months, we have no representation in the Senate unless you are in one of the half-dozen Hancock County towns represented by Sen. Kimberley Rosen. We are, as the Constitution puts it, “the unrepresented district.”
Elections entail costs. There are ballot clerks to hire, ballots to print, mailings to voters and myriad other details that make it much less costly to hold this election in conjunction with the June primaries. Nevertheless, should that be the first consideration in a democracy? How should one weigh the cost of the election against a five-month absence of Senate representation for 39,000 Mainers? Are there other reasons for this long delay between caucus meetings and the special election?
Holding the special election at the time of the June primary causes some other electoral weirdness. Theoretically, whoever wins the special election would have an edge for a Senate seat next November. But the primary for that seat will be on the same June day as the special election. That means that current candidates, Genevieve McDonald and Brian Langley, would have to file to run in the primary for next fall’s general election before they know if they have been elected to fill the vacant Senate seat. That’s weird.
Ditto for candidates rumored to be out there who are not current (or former) legislators. They are struggling to figure out whether they want to run for a four-month gig when there is essentially no Legislature at the same time they have to think about whether they would want to run for a full term or not in the fall. They must decide before they know the outcome of the special election.
As for the candidate with a current House seat, Rep. McDonald, she’s in the race for a four-month Senate seat, but should she get into the primary for a full Senate term? Or for her current House seat? That may be the hardest decision of all. And what about former Sen. Brian Langley, also a candidate for the vacant seat? Does he want to go back full time? He does not have long to decide.
In the meantime, how about those caucuses? They are party affairs for party voters. There is no information about the caucuses on the county committee websites yet. Independents only get a say once the party choice of candidates is presented to us. All we know now is that that must happen within the next two weeks.
Jill Goldthwait worked for 25 years as a registered nurse at Mount Desert Island Hospital. She has served as a Bar Harbor town councilor and as an independent state senator from Hancock County.