June 27, 2012

Summers won't drop state job during campaign

BY DAVID SHARP, Associated Press

PORTLAND -- Maine's top election official, who's running for U.S. Senate, has a message to critics who want him to step down as secretary of state during the campaign.

"They want me to resign and I'm not going to do it," Charlie Summers said Tuesday following criticism from the Maine People's Alliance and Maine Democratic Party.

The secretary of state's office administers Maine elections, and the Maine People's Alliance says Summers, a Republican, should resign because of a conflict in overseeing his own election. The group also called on him to step down for alleged voter intimidation for sending a letter to college students telling them to register their vehicles in Maine and get Maine driver's licenses if they wanted to continue voting in the state.

The Democratic Party, meanwhile, came out with its own criticism over a shortage of voter registration cards in recent weeks.

Summers brushed aside the complaints, saying his deputy, Julie Flynn, will oversee the November election as she has for the past 18 years, and that there's no conspiracy with voter registration cards. The supply of cards simply ran out, and revised cards are being ordered, he said.

Besides, Summers said, others have held the same job while running for higher office.

Maine's constitutional offices -- secretary of state, state treasurer and attorney general, all of them elected by the Legislature -- often serve as a springboard to elected office in Maine.

Democrat Ken Curtis was secretary of state when he won election as governor in 1966 and Democrat Bill Diamond of Windham was secretary of state during his losing bid for Congress in 1994. Democrat Joe Brennan was attorney general when he ran for governor and won in 1978.

As secretary of state, Summers oversees the state archives and the Bureau of Motor Vehicles in addition to elections.

He said he's taken steps to eliminate any conflict in elections. As for the voter registration card complaints, he said they seem especially petty since updated cards will be available within weeks and computer users can go online to print their own cards.

"It's much ado about nothing," Summers said. "The fact is people can still register to vote today. They (critics) are just trying to make an issue where there is none."

The Maine Democratic Party maintains that the shortage of voter registration cards was egregious. "We should never run out of voter registration cards in the middle of an election season," Maine Democratic Party Chair Ben Grant said in a statement.

Similar criticism has been leveled in Ohio, where Republican Treasurer Josh Mandel is seeking to unseat Democratic U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown. Democrats have taken to referring to Mandel as the state's "absentee treasurer."

Maine Attorney General William Schneider, who lost to Summers in a six-way Republican primary, had said he'd give up his job to devote his full attention to the Senate race, if he'd won the nomination.

But Summers said that through time management he can continue his full-time state job while campaigning for the Senate. He said he still has initiatives that relate to teen driver safety and revising the driver's education curriculum that he wants to see through.

Neither of Summers' most prominent opponents in the race to replacing retiring Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe -- independent former Gov. Angus King and Democratic state Sen. Cynthia Dill -- is asking him to step down.

Diamond, who's now a state senator from Windham, never confronted questions of whether he should resign because he lost his primary campaign and wasn't on the November ballot. He said he used some vacation time for the primary campaign in the 1st Congressional District.

Further complicating Summers' position is that his wife is running for state Senate and that politics are far more partisan than they were a decade ago, Diamond said.

Ultimately, Summers has to decide whether he can hold a full-time job -- and provide a solid accounting of his hours to critics -- while campaigning for U.S. Senate. "If he thinks he can, then that's fine but the proof will be in the pudding, as they say. This is a long campaign," he said.

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