Phil Harriman (left) and Ethan Strimling (right). Credit: Gabor Degre / BDN

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Phil: I know you support having our attorney general, secretary of state and treasurer elected by the voters of Maine, as opposed to being chosen by the Legislature. I think I have a better way.

Ethan: Do you want to just get rid of them altogether as part of your 10-point “efficiency in government” plan?

Phil: My “efficiency plan” is to allow the governor to appoint these positions, with confirmation by two-thirds of the state Senate.

Ethan: So you want to go from 186 people selecting our constitutional officers to one? I know you Republicans like to limit voting to as few people as possible, but honestly.

Phil: We don’t want to limit voting, we want elections to be transparent and verifiable. Which is why I support having the governor appoint the positions for everyone to see, followed up by public hearings and public votes, as opposed to the closed-door secret ballots that both our parties take now.

Ethan: Just to be clear, I am 100 percent not a defender of the current system. A total insider game with very little accountability. If you aren’t a former legislator, no need to even apply.

Phil: And this year, you didn’t even have to be “former.” Shenna Bellows was a sitting senator, having just spent $75,000 of taxpayer money to get re-elected.

Ethan: I actually think Bellows was an inspired choice for secretary of state, but that’s beside the point. Lots of folks, including Republicans, have served in these jobs with integrity.

Phil: Just to be clear, when you say “lots of folks, including Republicans” you are discussing a total of two, since only Charlie Summers and William Schneider have served as Maine’s secretary of state or attorney general since Jimmy Carter was president.

Ethan: Don’t be so despondent, you had a great run from 1917 through President Richard Nixon. But my point is that, just like Portland has had a couple of good unelected city managers over the past hundred years, the structure is based on backroom hiring with no public vetting and zero democratic accountability. That’s the same for Maine’s constitutional officers.

Phil: Agree there. But Portland is actually a good example for why my system makes the most sense. Under your vision for Portland, there would be a strong executive mayor who would appoint someone to oversee city operations, who in turn would be approved by the city council. That’s what I propose for the attorney general, treasurer and secretary of state vis-a-vis the governor.

Ethan: But the mayor hiring an administrator they will supervise is very different. The secretary of state, treasurer and attorney general must be independent, not subservient to the governor.

Phil: In order to ensure that independence, I would allow for the removal of either position only after a gubernatorial election, or by two-thirds of the Legislature through an impeachment process.

Ethan: I agree on the impeachment piece, but why are you so opposed to letting the people decide through a statewide election as Bangor Sen. Joe Baldacci is proposing? The candidates will get fully vetted, you avoid backroom logrolling, and the person is 100 percent independent of either branch.

Phil: Because you will gain politicians for positions that should be free of politics. I don’t want either person making decisions to get re-elected. I want them to do what is needed to enforce our laws and run our elections and have the professional credentials for the job.

Ethan: All the pleasing of the electorate happens in the current system, it’s just that the current electorate is only 186 people. In your system, it would be just one person, the governor. And, you know as well as I do that the governor will appoint someone loyal, even if they can’t fire the person later.

Phil: Perhaps, but that is why we have the Senate confirm with a two-thirds vote. That almost guarantees you need bipartisan support for the individual.

Ethan: Well, I’ll tell you what. I would certainly take your system over the current one.

Phil: And I would take yours over the current one. But sadly, I expect the Legislature will take neither and simply keep doing it the way they always have.

Ethan: The path of least resistance.