AUGUSTA — Majority Democrats in the Maine Legislature selected Rep. Aaron Frey, D-Bangor, to be the state’s next attorney general in caucus voting Tuesday, largely forecasting who will win the post when the entire Legislature votes on the position Wednesday.
It took four rounds of voting to select Frye in a run-off process. A total of 107 of the 110 Democrats in the Legislature participated in the voting.
Frey, who won re-election to his fourth term in the Legislature in November, will likely decline to be sworn into that office in order to take the attorney general’s post, replacing outgoing Attorney General Janet Mills, who was elected governor in November.
Unlike most states — where voters elect an attorney general in a statewide election — Maine’s constitutional officers are selected by the 186 members of the Legislature, making it all but certain Frey will win the election Wednesday when the full Legislature convenes and Democrats use their new majorities to propel him to victory. Republicans are not even expected to nominate a candidate for the post.
Frey, who has served on the Legislature’s Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee, was running against fellow Democrats, including two state senators, Mike Carpenter of Houlton and Mark Dion of Portland, Tim Shannon, a Yarmouth attorney, and Maeghan Maloney, the district attorney for Kennebec and Somerset counties. Maloney served one term in the House of Representatives from 2011 to 2013 before becoming a district attorney. Campaigning for the post has gone on largely among majority Democrats and mostly behind the scenes.
“I was not surprised it came down to the last ballot,” Frey said. “It shows there was a lot of thoughtfulness in who the next attorney general should be.”
Frey, 39, said he considers all those he was competing against as friends. “And I don’t want to lose their friendship, because they all have important voices that are going to need to be heard to make sure we stay together the next couple of years,” Frey said.
During a short speech before the voting, Frey promised he would be at the center of making sure there were “equitable outcomes for all citizens of the state of Maine.”
He said as attorney general he would focus on Maine’s opioid overdose crisis and try to ensure a balance of enforcement, treatment and prevention as the state endeavors to slow an epidemic that claims on average one Maine life each day.
“Our criminal justice system has been cluttered with a mess of aggravated crimes and mandatory minimum sentences, which has led to more emphasis on the policy of retribution than it has on prioritizing rehabilitation,” Frey said. “It’s an endless circle and, we can do better.”
Frey also said he would focus on re-establishing a better relationship between Maine and its American Indian tribes and would recommit the state to re-establishing “respectful dialogue with these sovereign nations.”
He also promised to be a backstop against federal policy pushed by the administration of Republican President Donald Trump that would undermine protection of the state’s environment or limit its response to climate change.
“That administration continues to propagate policies that are inconsistent with our Maine values, like environmental deregulation, relaxing important restrictions on financial institutions and dismantling Obamacare,” Frey said.
He said he would be tough on big industry, especially drug makers who are taking advantage of Maine people.
Following his nomination Tuesday, Frey said his experience as a lawyer was largely as a defense attorney but that he was confident he could serve competently as the state’s top prosecutor and would lean on experienced and professional staff in the Attorney General’s Office and within the offices of the local district attorneys.
“As the chief law enforcement officer, it’s not just criminal law, but making sure that all laws are enforced in a dispassionate way that is constructive for all Maine citizens,” Frey said.
Democrats also nominated incumbent Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap of Old Town to serve in that role again, and nominated Henry Beck, a Waterville attorney and former state lawmaker, to be state treasurer.
While Republicans have not announced a nominee for secretary of state, it is expected they will nominate incumbent State Treasurer Terry Hayes, an independent, who has served two terms in the post, to again serve in that position. That could set up the only competitive vote Wednesday as Hayes, who lost a bid for the governor’s office in November, will seek to cobble together enough support to win the post again. But if Democrats stick together behind Beck, his path to the office is all but guaranteed.
Each incoming Legislature selects the state’s constitutional officers every two years.