AUGUSTA — Voters across the country typically choose an attorney general in a statewide election that’s sometimes bitterly contested because the post is often a stepping stone to higher office.

In Maine, though, the electorate is a lot smaller: the 186 members of the state Legislature.

So there aren’t any annoying television commercials, mean-spirited mailers or eager young people knocking on doors. There’s just a handful of aspirants doing what they can to sway lawmakers to take their side.

Competing for the position are two state senators, Mike Carpenter of Houlton and Mark Dion of Portland, both Democrats; state Rep. Aaron Frey, D-Bangor; Portland attorney Tim Shannon; and Maeghan Maloney, the district attorney for Kennebec and Somerset counties.

Via secret ballots, the Legislature will pick a new attorney general on Dec. 5, as well as a state treasurer and secretary of state, the other constitutional officers in Maine.

But given the Democrats’ control of the next Legislature, the real showdown will come a day earlier when Democratic legislators decide who they’ll support for the jobs.

“It’s the most partisan election we have, but it becomes the most nonpartisan office,” said Carpenter, who held the position from 1990 to 1994 and would love to get another crack at it.

One Democrat is lobbying for the treasurer’s post, attorney Henry Beck, but incumbent Terry Hayes, who ran for governor unsuccessfully as an independent, may try to retain her job with Republican support.

There doesn’t appear to be anyone interested in trying to unseat Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, who has held the position since 2005, except for a two-year break immediately after Gov. Paul LePage first took office in 2010.

The selection of an attorney general is surprisingly opaque. There is almost no public scrutiny of the process, in large part because there’s little reason for contenders to say much of anything to those outside the legislative circle.

“You work among the members of the majority party,” Carpenter said Friday, because they’re the ones who make the decision.

Cabanne Howard, a Maine lawyer, explained in a League of Women Voters of Maine newsletter a decade ago that the process of picking someone “is intensely personal, for each candidate must contact each member of his or her party individually to learn the conditions of that person’s vote.”

“For example, it was widely known some years ago that, in order to have a chance for the support of a certain legislator from a remote part of the state, a candidate for attorney general was obliged to drive out to the legislator’s house and talk to him in his kitchen,” Howard wrote.

It hasn’t changed much, insiders said.

Carpenter said contenders reach out to legislators, including those elected this month, and quickly find themselves engaged in “a very serious conversation” that focuses on how they’d do the job.

He said he’s been involved four times in the selection of an attorney general and “never once did a legislator ask an inappropriate question.”

The attorney general is directly elected in 43 states and Washington, D.C. The attorney general is appointed by the state Legislature in Maine, by the state Supreme Court in Tennessee, and by the governor in the remaining five states.

During his unsuccessful campaign for governor this year, Dion, a former sheriff of Cumberland County, said he would prefer to have the public elect the attorney general. When the Legislature picks someone for the job, he said, it’s intrinsically a “highly partisan” move and leaves the attorney general without a foundation of wide public backing.

Carpenter said he would have agreed with Dion in the past, but from what he’s seen over the years, he doesn’t see a reason to make a change.

“If it’s not broke, let’s not fix it,” Carpenter said.

Making that change would be tough given that the existing system is laid out in Maine’s constitution. Revising it would require support from two-thirds of the Legislature and approval from voters.

LePage and others have occasionally suggested electing the attorney general, but efforts to push it through the Legislature have always fallen short.

Proponents of leaving it in the hands of lawmakers say that avoiding public elections keeps campaign contributions out of it and, as Carpenter put it, ensures there is “extremely little turnover” among the professional staff who work for the attorney general.

“They have the best lawyers in Maine,” Carpenter said. “They do excellent work.”

The state treasurer post exists in 48 states, though some call it a controller. In 36 of them, the post is filled by a statewide election. In eight, the governor picks the treasurer. Maine is one of four states that let the Legislature choose the treasurer.

Forty-seven states have a secretary of state. It’s an elected position in 35 of them.

Another commonly elected statewide position, lieutenant governor, doesn’t exist in Maine. There are 43 states that elect one.

Beck said Friday he is “excited about putting my name forward” and is talking with lawmakers and people who deal with the treasurer’s office.

The treasurer’s office is “well-run and has wonderful people working there,” Beck said, but it has lagged in terms of policy initiatives that could make it better. He said it’s also important to have a treasurer who can be relied on to detail the governor’s plans and policies, especially in terms of bonding.

Beck, 32, is a Waterville native and an attorney who served in the State House after his election during his senior year at Colby College. He worked closely with Gov.-elect Janet Mills’ campaign this year.

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Portraits of Maine’s first 16 attorneys general. (Maine State Archives)