AUGUSTA, Maine — With the election settled and their legislative leaders in place, state lawmakers are preparing to fill Maine’s three constitutional officer positions.
And one of the races — for state treasurer — is generating a buzz in political circles as a former Republican legislative leader competes against a former GOP gubernatorial candidate who got an unusual endorsement from Gov.-elect Paul LePage.
Maine’s treasurer, secretary of state and attorney general will be elected by the Legislature on Dec. 1. Although not guaranteed, GOP lawmakers are expected to exercise their new power as the majority party in the State House by filling the posts with Republicans.
Among the three contests, the race for treasurer is garnering attention due, in large part, to LePage’s decision to make his preference known to legislators.
Two men have declared their candidacy for treasurer.
Bruce Poliquin is a former investor and Republican candidate for governor from Georgetown. Poliquin’s opponent is David Bowles, a business owner from Sanford who served as the House minority leader and assistant minority leader during eight years in the Legislature.
During the Republican gubernatorial primary, Poliquin logged tens of thousands of miles and spent roughly $711,000 of his own money canvassing the state only to finish a disappointing sixth in a field of seven candidates.
Afterward, Poliquin hit the campaign trail touting LePage’s reputation as a fiscal conservative like himself. Soon after the November election, he announced his plan to seek the treasurer’s post.
“Paul asked me to consider running for the job. It was really his idea,” Poliquin said. “So I decided it was a good idea after discussing it with him.”
In the early- to mid-1980s, Poliquin was a partner in an asset management firm, Avatar Investors Associates Corp., that managed nearly $5 billion worth of worker pension funds for corporations.
Poliquin said that experience — combined with subsequent years working as an investor and in housing development — provides him with the skills needed to help address Maine’s financial problems. In particular, Poliquin is concerned about the more than $4 billion unfunded liability owed to Maine’s retirement system as well as seldom-mentioned unfunded liabilities for state employees’ health care costs.
“I am very familiar with this issue, and Paul and I have discussed this at length,” Poliquin said. “He understands like I do that we will not fix the ongoing budget crisis in the state until we fix this problem.”
But Bowles, Poliquin’s opponent for treasurer, points out that the treasurer’s job is primarily managing the state’s cash flow, debt levels incurred through bonding and trust accounts. While the treasurer does serve on the board of trustees of Maine’s Public Employees Retirement System, he or she is not heavily involved in policy matters in the state.
For that reason, Bowles has been urging lawmakers to elect the person with the best understanding of the responsibilities of the office of treasurer.
“Mr. Poliquin is very well qualified to serve in some capacity where he can actively have an impact on the state’s unfunded liability,” Bowles said. “But that is not the role of the treasurer, and frankly any state treasurer that attempts to do that would be immediately rebuffed by the board of trustees of the pension fund.”
LePage’s endorsement of Poliquin caused grumbling among lawmakers, some of whom saw it as the governor-elect overstepping the separation between the executive and legislative branches. In recent years, most constitutional officers have been past legislators.
While no longer openly campaigning for Poliquin, LePage continues to support his former primary rival. In an e-mail on Sunday, LePage spokesman Dan Demeritt said the state faces major challenges with the unfunded liabilities, and LePage asked Poliquin to run for treasurer “because he is one of Maine’s leading experts in finance and pension fund management.”
“The governor-elect respects the Legislature’s constitutional role in selecting a state treasurer and hopes the members agree that Maine needs a treasurer with Bruce Poliquin’s qualifications,” he wrote.
Republican legislative leaders weren’t making any predictions in the race on Sunday, however.
“I don’t think anything is a shoo-in until all of the votes are cast,” said Rep. Andre Cushing, a Hampden Republican who was recently elected assistant House majority leader.
“Dave is certainly very well known to a lot of folks and well thought of, and he has a lot of friends in the Legislature,” said Sen. Kevin Raye of Perry, who was recently chosen by Republicans to be Senate President. “Bruce Poliquin is likewise respected by a lot of folks for his financial experience, so I don’t know how it will play out yet.”
Meanwhile, in the race for attorney general, two Republican candidates have come forward: William Schneider, a former state representative and assistant U.S. attorney from Durham, and outgoing Sen. Doug Smith of Dover-Foxcroft, who is a former probate judge.
Only one Republican candidate, former state Sen. Charles Summers, has declared for secretary of state.
It was unclear whether Democrats would nominate any candidates for the three offices, but Raye said he could not foresee a scenario in which the Republican caucuses would support a Democratic nominee on Dec. 1.