AUGUSTA, Maine — Longtime state Republican operative Lance Dutson has been hired as chief executive officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a conservative lobbying group that has seen its influence grow in recent years despite criticism from Democrats.

Dutson, who most recently was the spokesman for House Speaker Robert Nutting, succeeds Tarren Bragdon as head of the policy center. Bragdon resigned earlier this year to launch a similar lobbying organization in Florida.

“I’m honored for this opportunity to lead an organization with a long and successful record promoting limited government and economic freedom for Maine’s citizens and taxpayers,” Dutson, a Portland native, said in a statement.

Dutson will assume his new role on Aug. 8, and said he plans to expand on the center’s existing initiatives to increase government accountability by identifying waste and mismanagement within the state’s bureaucracy.

Democrats who already believe that the center is little more than an arm of the Republican party called the hiring predictable.

“This announcement confirms what we’ve known all along: that the Maine Heritage Policy Center is just a mouthpiece for the ultraconservative Republican agenda,” said Ben Grant, chairman of the Maine Democratic Party.

The selection of Dutson could signal a different approach in how the Maine Heritage Policy Center conveys its message. Dutson founded one of the state’s first political blogs, Maine Web Report, and also has served as an online communications consultant to U.S. Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, both Republicans.

“The Maine Heritage Policy Center will become a leader in innovating outreach and analysis techniques, and use Web- and technology-based strategies available to deliver our pro-growth, limited-government message across the state,” he said.

Michael Duddy, chairman of the center’s board of directors, said Dutson combines a keen understanding of Maine politics with a proven ability to communicate complex issues to broad audiences.

“Lance is a great leader and we look forward to his achievements on behalf of the organization and the citizens and taxpayers of Maine,” Duddy said.

The policy center has had the ear of Gov. Paul LePage as well. Bragdon, the former CEO, led LePage’s transition team, and Stephen Bowen, the governor’s choice as education commissioner, was a staff member at the Maine Heritage Policy Center.