AUGUSTA, Maine — Democratic lawmakers defeated a bill Tuesday that would have required a Maine governor to fill a vacant U.S. Senate seat with someone from the same political party as the senator getting replaced.
The proposal from Rep. David Boyer, R-Poland, had narrowly received a favorable report from a committee in April despite full Democratic control of the State House. It also garnered bipartisan support in the House last week before failing Tuesday in the Senate.
Every Democratic senator except for Nicole Grohoski of Ellsworth voted to defeat the bill Tuesday. It faces further action, but the Senate’s opposition effectively dooms it.
“It’s disappointing,” Boyer said after the Senate vote. “I didn’t think it would be too much of a politically charged issue.”
The measure would prevent Gov. Janet Mills from picking a fellow Democrat to replace either one of Maine’s U.S. senators, Republican Susan Collins or independent Angus King, who caucuses with Democrats. King, 79, was considering retirement after his last campaign in 2018 but is preparing to run for a third term next year.
Boyer had pointed out to a legislative committee that a mix of Democratic and Republican states have slightly different laws requiring governors to appoint a U.S. senator of the same political affiliation as their predecessor. One of them, Connecticut, only lets a governor fill a Senate vacancy only if there’s a year or less remaining in the term, and the appointment must be approved by a two-thirds vote in each house of the state legislature.
Up until Tuesday’s Senate vote, Boyer’s bill appeared to be one of a few Republican-sponsored proposals earning some support this session in the Democratic-controlled Legislature. Mills had not taken a public stance on the bill.
Boyer’s proposal would make a governor appoint someone with the same political affiliation as the senator leaving the seat. In the case of King or another independent stepping down, the Maine governor would have to choose someone with no party affiliation. However, nothing in the law stops someone from enrolling in a party after they are picked.
These appointments are relatively rare but can be massive opportunities for governors. Maine’s last one came in 1980, when Democrat George Mitchell was picked by then-Gov. Joseph Brennan to fill the seat of U.S. Sen. Edmund S. Muskie, who became secretary of state. Mitchell rose to become both Senate majority leader and a force in international politics after his service.
Tuesday’s floor debate in the Senate was relatively brief, with Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn, who ran against King in a 2018 campaign that Boyer advised him on, speaking in favor of it and Sen. Joe Baldacci, D-Bangor, speaking in opposition to it.
“The governor should have the authority to appoint the best person for the job to represent the state of Maine,” said Baldacci, the brother of former Maine Gov. John Baldacci.
Boyer said there was “a perception voting for this bill would be a vote against” Mills but that he would support such a law whether Maine’s leader was former Republican Gov. Paul LePage or a future leader of different political stripes.
“I feel like if this bill came in under the LePage years, it would have had a different outcome,” Boyer said.