MY CANDIDACY FOR SECRETARY OF STATE
This past summer, during a season of outrage and anger over historic injustice, a time of pandemic when our electoral system and the fundamental tenets of our democracy were being called into question, I formally declared my candidacy for the office of Maine Secretary of State. 2020 has presented our state and nation with challenges not seen for decades. It is and will continue to be a difficult time for government and civil society.
Maine's Secretary of State is a critical, non-partisan constitutional office and I believe my professional and legislative background provides the experience and skills needed to move this department forward during this most difficult and most unusual of years. In Maine, this office is elected by the legislature, and in early December, they will be gathering in Augusta to do so. I am approaching this run after years of working with this department, considering the responsibilities of the job, and I come to the position as an institutionalist, one who is running out of an interest in all aspects of this varied department.
ABOUT THE DEPARTMENT
While the Department of the Secretary of State has many functions, there are three core responsibilities that I want to touch on here, as together they represent our state’s best tools to maintain trust between our citizens and their government. These are: managing Maine’s State Archives; safeguarding and administering our elections; and operating the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. All of these are customer-centered offices that touch every single Maine resident.
When these public functions occur smoothly and responsively, my sense is that people tend to feel that government is working. When those experiences go badly, we have serious problems. Look no further than what happened with our constituents and the Maine Department of Labor this spring to see the damage that happens when these mechanisms of trust break down. The Secretary’s office has a tradition of responsiveness and customer service that, in my opinion, is unmatched. Maine’s next Secretary of State must maintain and cultivate this tradition. I am running for this position because of my longstanding commitment, both personal and professional, to good government.
MY PROFESSIONAL BACKGROUND
Before serving my four terms in the House, I served for 25 years in organizational management here in Maine. I hold a master’s degree in Public Administration (with a concentration in internal management of public organizations) and have served as both a history museum administrator and in various roles, including six years as Director, of the Maine Humanities Council, Maine's affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. This latter position entailed managing a statewide organization that operated within a Federal regulatory framework and worked with an extensive network of contract staff to provide public programming in libraries, museums and community entities across the state. I also included a period as the leader of an interagency cultural funding initiative called the New Century Community Program. Working with the state's seven public and private cultural agencies (including the State Archives) I learned a lot about interagency collaborations and how to get things done within Maine's state government.
These positions involved not just management, but they took me to nearly every community in the state. During that time, I also served as a founding board member of the Project on Civic Reflection, a national program that works to bring community groups together to study texts rooted in service, association, leadership and giving.
More recently, my legislative service has included eight years as a member of the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee (AFA), the committee responsible for writing the state's biennial and supplemental budgets. My work on AFA has provided me with a close-up and relatively in-depth understanding of the integrated functions of state government, of budget writing and operations. In addition, serving on AFA under both a Republican and a Democratic Chief Executive has provided me with important experience for anyone serving as a Constitutional Officer. I believe that this combination of professional experience and public service is unique and qualifies me well for this position, especially in the three main areas of responsibility mentioned earlier.
THE STATE ARCHIVES:
MAINTAINING THE PAST FOR PURPOSES OF THE FUTURE
Here in Maine, my humanities and museum work often provided the opportunity to work closely with the Maine State Archives and its historical collections. Without an understanding of the past, our leaders have no way to analyze the present and no real hope of navigating the future without repeating earlier mistakes. The archives (a division of the Department of Secretary of State), is a bulwark that, with Maine’s other cultural agencies, assures that misssteps are not repeated and that we know where we’ve come from. Perspective is extraordinarily important, and that’s why the Secretary’s office plays such a critical role in work like that of the Maine-Wabanaki Truth and Reconciliation Commission a few years ago. For this reason I see the archives and records role as a critical one.
ASSURING THAT VOTING FOR EVERYONE IS EASY, ACCURATE AND SECURE
The most obvious pillar of civic trust is the Secretary of State’s role as overseer of elections. That small bureau is responsible for a role disproportionate to its size, to assure the administration and security of Maine’s federal, state and county elections and recounts. It conducts ranked-choice tabulations, develops ballot language and maintains the central voter database. It administers and coordinates all the election policy passed by the legislature or by the people. If elected, no priority will be greater for me than promoting participation in voting, maintaining security of records, and defending ballot access.
We currently have a very good electoral system in Maine, and while there is room for it to be better, I think it’s important to celebrate features that have contributed to our being in the forefront of election participation and security. Elements like paper ballots, robust early voting, localized and distributed elections, and the great failsafe: same day regisatraion are great tools to protect the voters and protect those running.
The small but amazingly skilled staff in the bureau of elections is extraordinary. I would definitely support reforms to make voting easier and more modern, maybe to perpetuate the lessons we learned this year, provided those reforms are realized with new funds and not funded, as state government often is, at the expense of other functions or staffing in those offices. I would prioritize reforms, such as increased online services, that could take pressure off the bureau's staff and hardworking municipal clerks' offices.
THE BUREAU OF MOTOR VEHICLES:
CUSTOMER SERVICE, SECURITY, RELIABILITY
The other major area of focus, and by far the largest portion of the department and the Secretary's day-to-day job, is overseeing the Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV), a sprawling operation that extends to offices across the state, regulating everything from drivers’ licenses and titles, to trucking regulations to automobile dealers. This is an outward-facing office that provides critical functions touching everyone, even people who don't drive cars. So here, as with other parts of the Department, a focus on the twin aims of customer service and data security must drive everything else.
Not everybody looks forward to a visiting their BMV branch - the work done there is often complicated and by necessity it is governed by inflexible statutes. That said, people should be able to expect a friendly and efficient experience, which I think in most cases, they generally get. The strains of the past year on staff and workload should not, however, be underestimated. Pandemic related backlogs and large immediate project deadlines have added immense pressure to the bureau, and finding ways to assure that this critical government function continues to run smoothly is a huge needed focus.
In the case of the BMV, my goals will be to foster an environment that lets this group of specialists and professionals do their work as easily and effectively as possible. There will be immediate and urgent work to be done at the BMV, much of which results from COVID-related backlogs. This will include the final implementation of Real ID, the rollout of Automatic Voter Registration (AVR), and the need, one that will surely grow with time, to protect the office from the worst of what will likely be an extremely difficult biennial budget. Of these, AVR is particularly urgent, as the infrastructure being developed for that program will provide the backbone for future improvements to our voting system that the legislature may wish to consider.
About this Site:
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