Politics & Other Mistakes: Way to normal

6 mins read

No offense, but you’re totally unqualified to decide who my wife’s boss is.

Look at your track record. A significant plurality of you chose John (Another Couple Years And I’ll Get the Hang of This Job) Baldacci as governor. Twice. Before that, most of you voted for Angus (We’ve Got Plenty of Dough, Let’s Buy Some Laptops) King. Twice. Prior to King, you filled the Blaine House with John (The Governor Is Currently Unavailable) McKernan. Twice.


Al Diamon

These results don’t indicate an aptitude for filling important executive positions. In the future, you might want to leave such decisions to some superior system, such as nepotism, psychic visions or random rolls of the dice. Whatever their defects, none of those approaches is likely to clog up a perfectly good congressional seats with the likes of Jim Longley Jr. or Mike Michaud.

It’s not that I’m against democracy. I think the one-person-one-vote thing is great for choosing county commissioners. Although Androscoggin County is having a little trouble getting rid of Helen (I Moved Out Of My District, Not Out Of My Office) Poulin.

Holding elections is a fine way to fill city council seats. Although newly elected Portland Councilor Dory (I Wouldn’t Recognize The Appearance of Conflict of Interest If It Had Its Own High-Definition TV Channel) Waxman slipped through. And secret ballots cast by an informed citizenry usually result in a quality legislature. If by quality, you mean ex-House Majority Whip Sean (I Inflated My Record Because I Planned to Use It as a Parade Balloon) Faircloth of Bangor.

It’s just that some positions are better filled by other methods than voting. Cabinet posts, for example. Bartenders, of course.

And my wife’s boss.

My spouse works for the Maine Attorney General’s Office. Her job involves enforcing laws that protect children from abuse and neglect. Like most of the 100 other assistant attorneys general, she needs specialized legal expertise, negotiating skills and courtroom experience.

Political savvy? Not so much.

So how come the major qualification for getting hired as her boss is being a political insider closely connected to the dominant party in the Legislature?

And how come those opposed to the current method of selecting the attorney general – essentially, the pick is made by legislators of the majority party – are pushing for a constitutional amendment that would make the office even more political? They want the AG to be popularly elected.

Just like those gubernatorial mistakes you made.

My criticism of this system isn’t meant to disparage incoming AG Janet Mills. (If I decide to disparage her, I won’t be that subtle about it.) Mills is qualified for the job. But in winning the position, her qualifications mattered less than her political pedigree. Which is odd, because most of her duties have zilch to do with politics.

Maine’s AG represents the state in civil actions; issues legal opinions requested by the governor or Legislature; prosecutes murder cases and other serious crimes; and litigates disputes involving environmental laws, financial crimes, children’s welfare, civil rights and consumer protection. The occasional political dispute turns up (Poulin’s insistence she doesn’t have to live in her district, for instance), but it’s unusual.

Rather than continuing to employ the legislative method – in which people you made the mistake of electing select the AG based on partisan considerations – or moving to a popularly elected chief lawyer – the candidate who hands out the most get-out-of-jail-free cards wins – let’s consider an alternative.

If we want an unbiased AG with a first-rate legal mind, who can stand up to pressure from elected officials and bureaucrats, we need a person who exhibits the same qualities as a supreme court justice. So, let’s choose our AG the same way we fill vacancies on the high court.

The governor would nominate a candidate from the same pool of applicants used to fill top judicial posts. While gubernatorial appointments can be blamed for the mess at the Maine Turnpike Authority (where elections would be a distinct improvement) and have occasionally resulted in a certified doofus being elevated to the lower-court bench, our guvs have usually done a more competent job than is their norm when it comes to filling major judicial vacancies.

Legislators would serve as watchdogs. The Judiciary Committee would hold a hearing on the nomination, and the full Senate would vote on whether to uphold the committee’s recommendation.

The new AG would be limited to a single seven-year term (it’s too powerful a position to let somebody hang around too long), but ex-AGs would become prime candidates for judgeships.

This method avoids the current behind-the-scenes politicking, the cheesy campaigns envisioned by popular-vote reformers and – best of all – it gives you someone other than yourself to blame if it doesn’t work out.

Not me. The governor.

Your opinions – legal or otherwise – can be e-mailed to aldiamon@herniahill.net.

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