By Kevin Miller
Gov. Paul LePage suggested Thursday that he plans to take over the title, at least, of education commissioner rather than put forward another nominee to fill the role.
LePage made the comment during a breakfast forum in Lewiston two days after he withdrew the nomination of acting Commissioner Bill Beardsley to the post on a permanent basis because he believed Democratic lawmakers would reject him. Instead, LePage said that Beardsley will effectively serve as commissioner -- but with the title deputy commissioner -- for the rest of his term.
"This way here I can keep him, he keeps working," LePage said, according to a video posted on the Sun Journal website. "And when his acting commissioner status (ends), he will be the deputy commissioner and I will be the commissioner. That way there I can keep him. Otherwise, I would have lost him."
LePage said he withdrew Beardsley's nomination because he expected Democrats on the Legislature's Education and Cultural Affairs Committee to vote against him. Democrats outnumber Republicans 7-6 on the committee.
"So I said I am going to pull him, I am going to put him back over there as the acting, and he will be the commissioner for the rest of my term," LePage said.
The leading Democrat on the Education Committee, Sen. Rebecca Millett of South Portland, said the governor is "making a mockery of the role of commissioner and the important responsibilities that fall beneath the commissioner and seriousness of educating our children."
Millett was asked to address the governor's decision this week to pull Beardsley's nomination and whether that motivated his self-appointment.
"I don't know if it's even worth asking that question," she said. "It's unfortunate we've gone down this road."
She added, "I can't explain why the governor does anything."
Adrienne Bennett, the governor's spokeswoman, characterized the governor's comments as another example of his exploiting the media with controversial statements.
"The governor knows how to bait reporters into stories that he wants to draw attention to," Bennett said. "The fact is that there are people (in the Legislature) that are playing political games and he wants the public to know about that."
Bennett said that LePage still planned to renominate Beardsley and that the governor's self-appointment plan would only be utilized if lawmakers rejected Beardsley's appointment.
Bennett's explanation marks the second time in a week that the governor, or his staff, have said that his controversial statements are examples of his savvy manipulation of the media.
On Tuesday the governor told a Bangor radio station that "I had to go screaming at the top of my lungs about black dealers" and make other "outrageous comments" to force the Legislature to take the state's drug crisis seriously.
His explanation, however, contradicted his earlier assertion that the media and his political opponents -- not he -- inserted race into the drug debate by misinterpreting his statement that out-of-state dealers often "impregnate a young white girl" in Maine.
(c)2016 the Portland Press Herald (Portland, Maine)