AUGUSTA, Maine — The idea that Maine would return to a presidential primary, much like 38 other states, was shot down in relatively short order Wednesday by the Legislature’s Committee on Veterans and Legal Affairs.

Acting on a resolve passed by the full Legislature earlier this year, the committee was tasked with reporting out the options for a return to a presidential primary system with the option of offering legislation to do so.

But only two of the 12 lawmakers on the panel, which includes members of both the House and Senate, seemed inclined to pursue a system for a statewide presidential primary vote.

Lawmakers offered differing reasons as to why they didn’t think Maine needed a primary vote, including the estimated $1 million it would cost to conduct the election every four years.

Both Democrats and Republicans panned the idea as costly and confusing, with some defending the current party caucus and convention system as a good way to select a presidential party nominee. Rep. Jarrod Crockett, R-Bethel, and Rep. John Patrick, D-Rumford, said their constituents were not interested in a primary.

“At this point, with the other things competing for our money, maybe this isn’t something we want to move forward with,” Crockett said.

“Ditto,” said Rep. Douglas Damon, R-Bangor. “I have had zero people tell me they support the initiative of a primary. Some states want it because they believe it creates revenue for the state. Maine has four [Electoral College] votes; they don’t feel there’s going to be any presidential candidates coming up here to spend money for that and the fiscal note for this is something that none of the people I spoke with want to support.”

The resolution was authored by state Senate President Kevin Raye, R-Perry. It came in the wake of a controversial Maine Republican Party caucus season and convention, at which supporters of U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, staged a takeover of the GOP’s state convention.

That controversy continued to play out on the national stage last week in Tampa when about half of those elected during the state GOP convention to be national delegates were stripped by the national GOP of their credentials and replaced by delegates for Mitt Romney.

Patrick said the resolution came about because Republicans were embarrassed by their own caucus and convention process.

“I have zero tolerance to move forward with this,” Patrick said. “I haven’t had one constituent say anything on this issue. From the standpoint of compelling dialogue from my voters and constituents, I’m not getting it. For me, I’m going to say it’s going to be a waste of time.”

But Sen. Debra Plowman, R-Hampden, and Rep. Michael Beaulieu, R-Auburn, voted against quashing the idea with a simple report, saying the committee looked at the various primary systems and wasn’t interested.

Plowman argued passionately that a presidential primary in Maine could engage party voters in a more meaningful way and in a way that had some weight to it.

“I don’t think you start planning for a presidential primary in two years or three years; you start with four years out because there’s an awful lot of work that has to be done,” Plowman said. “We have heard the mantra over and over again: The more people who participate in elections and voting and determining who represents the government, the better. I think this should be something we should take into account and I’m not willing to let it go.”

She said it was still a way to encourage people with limited time to participate in a party’s selection of a presidential candidate. “A lot of people don’t want to be part of a caucus or convention-type of process. They don’t have three days to go and participate, or two days. They don’t have the connections to become so involved but would like to be involved, at least to show up.”

The panel voted 10-2 to recommend to the next Legislature that the state stay the course, but that didn’t mean an individual lawmaker wouldn’t still author a bill in 2013, said Sen. Nichi Farnham, R-Bangor, the committee chairwoman.

Scott Thistle

Scott Thistle is the State Politics Editor for the Lewiston Sun Journal. He has covered federal, state and local politics in Maine for nearly two decades.