According to certain supposed experts in governmental affairs, what Maine needs is more bitterly fought political campaigns.
These authorities (sorta) claim the state is deficient in wall-to-wall TV campaign spots, paid for by shady out-of-state interests and containing all the factual content of official statements from the Russian Foreign Ministry.
Also, we need to fill more important offices that deal with complex legal, financial, and electoral matters with semi-robotic mutants with the mental capacity of sewer sludge.
In other words, these reformers, either misguided or malicious, think we should choose the attorney general, secretary of state, and state treasurer – those are the state’s constitutional officers – by popular election.
You can tell this is a bad idea because it’s supported by Democrats (state Sen. Joe Baldacci of Bangor) and Republicans (former GOP Gov. Paul LePage). If those bumbling twit brains are aligned on something, you can be certain it’s stupid.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve got nothing against a little democracy. Emphasis on little. It’s fine that we elect governors, members of Congress, and legislators. Mostly, we do a lousy job of it, but the mediocrity from the left and right averages out over time, leaving us only slightly worse off than we were before.
But those are all inherently political positions, meaning there’s no real harm in filling them with weasels. The constitutional officers are a different matter. (Can I call them “Connies” or is that too disrespectful?) Unlike members of the executive and legislative branches, the Connies (yes, that does seem disrespectful) have important work to do that requires a thoughtful, competent, nonpartisan approach.
Under our current setup, the Connies are chosen by the Legislature, which really means by the majority party in the Legislature. Qualifications for candidates are that they belong to the right party, have been or are currently a legislator, and demonstrate they’re toilet trained. Oh, and the AG is supposed to be a lawyer, although there’s no requirement he or she be any good at it.
In fact, potential Connies don’t have to demonstrate any particular adeptness at those jobs. All three offices are run almost entirely by their staff who actually know what they’re doing. The ugly truth is the constitutional officers are little more than figureheads, and if they suddenly vanished, the state would go on functioning without any noticeable difference.
So, why not abolish those offices, and save a little money?
Because these prime positions are enshrined in the state Constitution. That’s why they’re called constitutional. Getting rid of them might be more work than putting up with their petty foibles.
There is, however, an alternative to both the current system and the popular-election method, although it still requires amending the Constitution: Let’s fill these jobs the same way we choose judges.
Under this system, the governor would appoint a committee to recommend Connie candidates based on their backgrounds and characters. The guv would then nominate one of these carefully vetted applicants for each of the three jobs. They would be given public hearings before legislative committees, which would forward their opinions to the state Senate. Senators would then approve or reject the nominees.
Like judges, the newly inaugurated Connies would serve seven-year terms, after which they’d be eligible for reappointment. Or not if they did a crappy job. Like judges, they’d be insulated from political pressure and free to run their offices in whatever manner they perceived to be in the best interests of the state.
Unlike judges, they wouldn’t have to wear those silly robes and be addressed as Your Honor. Maybe they’d answer to Your Connie-ship.
In any case, we’d be spared both a trio of new elections preceded by the usual venom and lies, as well as skipping the biennial charade of legislative selection.
It’s time to take the con out of constitutional.
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