- Associated Press - Monday, March 30, 2015

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) - A Democratic state lawmaker in Maine urged his colleagues on Monday to support a proposal that would strip the governor of his power to fill vacancies in the U.S. Senate.

If one of the U.S. senators representing Maine - Republican Susan Collins and Independent Angus King - were to step down this month, Republican Gov. Paul LePage could appoint a replacement until voters choose a new senator in November 2016. But Democratic Rep. Matt Moonen wants to require that a special primary election is held no later than 100 days after a vacancy occurs, followed by a special general election.

The proposal has raised questions about whether Democrats are concerned about the possibility of Collins leaving her six-year term early to run for governor in 2018. But Moonen told lawmakers on the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee that his decision to introduce the bill had nothing to do with the senator’s potential political prospects.

A Collins spokeswoman said in an email that the senator is focused on issues before Congress and is “not even thinking about 2018 or any future election cycles.”

States must hold a special election if a U.S. House member leaves before their term is finished, but the federal government let states to decide what to do for senators. Maine is one of 36 states that allow the governor to appoint a Senate replacement while 14 states require a special election, Moonen said.

A gubernatorial appointee could potentially serve more than two years in the Senate under the current system. If a senator decides to step down less than 60 days before a regular primary election, voters couldn’t pick their party’s nominee until the following primary two years later. The general election would be held six months after that.

“Two and a half years without the voters being able to weigh in on who represents them is a problem,” Moonen said.

The last time the scenario played out in Maine was in 1980 when Gov. Joseph Brennan appointed George Mitchell to replace Sen. Ed Muskie when he stepped down to become U.S. Secretary of State.

Deputy Secretary of State Julie Flynn said it would take about 200 days to hold a special primary and general election, meaning that a Senate seat could be vacant for nearly six months. Her office estimates that holding those elections would cost about $300,000.

LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett said the governor will examine the proposal if it gets to his office but said it appears that the measure is “yet another attempt from Democrats to circumvent executive branch authority.”


Follow Alanna Durkin at https://www.twitter.com/aedurkin

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