Republicans who want to unseat Maine’s secretary of state for barring former President Donald Trump from the primary ballot will face long odds impeaching a stalwart and influential Democrat whose party holds firm control over both Legislative chambers.
Shenna Bellows is the first secretary of state in history to block someone from running for president by using the U.S. Constitution’s insurrection clause. Trump, the early front-runner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, appealed the decision on Tuesday and is expected to soon appeal a similar ban by the Colorado Supreme Court.
As Maine lawmakers returned to the Capitol on Wednesday to begin this year’s legislative session, retribution against Bellows was among the first orders of business for many Republicans. They filed an order of impeachment against her, called for her to resign and encouraged legislators to vote her out of office.
“The secretary of state has jumped in way over her boots on this one,” said Rep. Billy Bob Faulkingham, the House Republican leader.
Bellows was elected secretary of state three years ago by the Maine Legislature, and Democrats have since maintained a solid majority in both houses, meaning there’s little chance those same legislators would reverse course and oust her. Bellows said Wednesday she stands by her decision to unliterally remove Trump from the state’s ballot, and isn’t fazed by the calls for removal.
“This is little more than political theater produced by those who disagree with my decision,” Bellows said. “I had a duty to uphold the laws and the Constitution and that’s what I did. And what I will continue to do — to serve the people of Maine.”
Section 3 of the 14th Amendment prohibits those who “engaged in insurrection” from holding office. Some legal scholars say the post-Civil War clause applies to Trump for his role in trying to overturn the 2020 presidential election and encouraging his backers to storm the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
However, several high-ranking Maine Republicans say they feel Bellows’ action was a partisan one, and betrayed the confidence of Maine’s people.
Faulkingham said during a news conference that Bellows’ decision “threatens to throw our country into chaos” by encouraging other secretaries to make arbitrary decisions about ballot access. Rep. John Andrews filed an impeachment order that he said will be on the legislative calendar next Tuesday or Thursday, and Rep. Shelley Rudnicki said on the House floor that Bellows’ “behavior is unacceptable for a secretary of state” and she should resign.
Bellows, Maine’s 50th secretary of state and the first woman to hold the office, ascended to the role in January 2021. She had a long history in Maine politics and liberal advocacy before that.
She grew up in rural Hancock before attending Middlebury College, and served as a Democratic state senator from 2016 to 2020. Prior to that, in 2014, she ran an unsuccessful campaign against longtime Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins that resulted in a fairly easy win for the incumbent, but increased Bellow’s name recognition.
She was also the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine from 2005 to 2013 and worked on drives to legalize same-sex marriage, same-day voter registration and ranked choice voting — all of which were ultimately successful.
A fake emergency phone call led to police responding to Bellows’ home last week, the day after she removed Trump from the ballot. Democrats and Republicans in the state widely condemned the call, known as “swatting.” Bellows said she, her family and her staff have been the target of more harassment this week.
Democratic Gov. Janet Mills said via a spokesperson Wednesday that the efforts to impeach Bellows are “unjustified.” Mills also believes the question of whether Trump violated the 14th amendment must be answered by courts.
“Without a judicial determination on that question, she believes that the decision of whether the former President should be considered for the presidency belongs in the hands of the people,” wrote the spokesperson, Ben Goodman.
The Maine Democratic Party asserted that decisions about ballot access are part of Bellows’ duties as secretary of state.
Trump appealed Bellows’ decision to a Maine Superior Court. The Colorado Supreme Court also found Trump ineligible for the presidency, and that decision has been appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Bellows said Wednesday that, “Should the Supreme Court of the United States make a decision that applies to the whole country, I would absolutely uphold it.”
While Maine has just four electoral votes, it’s one of two states to split them. Trump won one of Maine’s electors in 2020, so having him off the ballot there, should he emerge as the Republican general election candidate, could have outsized implications in a race that is expected to be narrowly decided.
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