Good morning from Augusta. If I were going to appoint myself to something, it’d be something easy, such as: I hereby appoint myself chief easy chair tester, and I’m gonna be thorough about it. That sounds great after trying to keep up with another week of political whiplash. Here’s my soundtrack.
There’s not a lot on the agenda in Augusta today. The House and Senate are gone until Tuesday and there are only two committees in: The Government Oversight Committee (agenda) and the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee (work session list).
Not that you need a reminder, but “not much on the agenda” doesn’t mean “not much will happen.”
Stay warm this weekend. I’ll be with some Cub Scouts in a drafty cabin in the woods with the woodstove cranking. We’re building a quinzee for some reason, hopefully just for an achievement badge and not for anyone to try to sleep in. I call a bottom bunk in the cabin. — Christopher Cousins
About the education commissioner
We don’t have one, sort of, and won’t anytime soon.
Gov. Paul LePage said he won’t nominate one until next year at the earliest, when the new Legislature is seated, and presumably only if there are enough Republicans elected to give him the numbers. In the meantime, William Beardsley will run the Department of Education from the position of deputy commissioner and if there are official Cabinet-level duties, LePage says he’ll carry them out personally.
It’s a surprising move by LePage (y’know, in a “nothing he does is surprising anymore” kind of way), but in this case the political game is being played on both sides of this issue.
- LePage nominated Beardsley, the well-respected former president of Husson University and Maine conservation commissioner, in December 2015 after naming him acting education commissioner in October 2015. The nomination was known to be at risk from the moment it was made. Democrats in the Senate and on the Education Committee were unanimous against Beardsley 2012 when LePage nominated him to the Maine Board of Education, but Beardsley was confirmed anyway. The reason: Beardsley’s alleged ties to a disgraced reverend in the Bangor area.
- The State Board of Education, which interviewed Beardsley in recent weeks, unanimously recommended him to the post, according to a member of the board who lauded Beardsley’s qualifications. But here’s the rub: The board has refused to release its recommendation letter for Beardsley, referring the question to the governor’s office.
- The governor’s office has also refused to release the nomination letter, citing it as a personnel matter, which is exempt from Maine’s Freedom of Access Act. UPDATE, 10:45 a.m., 2/12/16: The LePage administration has just released the Board of Education’s recommendation letter of Beardsley.
- If Democrats have problems with Beardsley, they haven’t been very forthcoming about them. Several who were approached by the Bangor Daily News in the past couple of weeks refused to speak on the record or would not comment at all.
- The LePage administration is convinced Beardsley’s nomination was doomed at the hands of Democrats. If the Democrats stick together against Beardsley, a 7-6 vote on the Education Committee would require Beardsley to tally 23 votes in the Senate, which means all the Republicans and three Democrats.
- It wasn’t until Tuesday, after LePage announced he’d rescinded his nomination of Beardsley, that Democrats and the Maine Education Association began to say publicly (and on the record) that they have hard questions for Beardsley about Carlson and Beardsley’s views on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues.
- Despite that, Democrats continue to hedge in public statements, choosing to attack LePage for shirking his constitutional duties instead of talking about why Beardsley is wrong for Maine students. Sen. Rebecca Millett, the leading Senate Democrat on the Education Committee, said late Thursday afternoon in a public written statement: “The governor is making a mockery of both the importance of the commissioner’s role and of educating our children. For whatever reason, he doesn’t believe Mr. Beardsley will be confirmed by the Legislature.”
- LePage told reporters on Thursday that he didn’t want Beardsley subjected to questioning by the Education Committee because he is “tired of having shit shows” that destroy nominees’ careers. (Hat tip to Steve Mistler at the Portland Press Herald for the video.)
- Beardsley has declined to speak to the media.
We’ll see how this plays out. Will it land in court? State law says clearly that the state needs an education commissioner and that LePage is supposed to appoint one. Chalk this up as one more political impasse at the State House where LePage has thrown the ball into the Democrats’ court. — Christopher Cousins
(Correction: A previous version of this post stated incorrectly that the Maine Constitution requires an education commissioner.)
Donald Sussman in the Dem debate
No, The (Other) Donald is not running for president, but his mammoth political donations got a mention Thursday night during the debate between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.
As one of the leading political donors in Maine and former husband of Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree of the 1st Congressional District, it hit a little close to home.
I didn’t watch the debate but according to The Atlantic, a moderator asked about two major donors who are supporting Clinton — Sussman and George Soros — to which Clinton basically said it’s happening on the Republican side, too, so what’s the big deal?
Sanders is touting that his support comes more from small-dollar donations than billionaire financiers, which feeds directly into the core message of his campaign: that the government is controlled by rich special interests, and not the American people.
Sussman and his ilk are likely to continue to encounter flak in the months to come. — Christopher Cousins
- LePage says he’ll speak for Maine Department of Education — Scott Thistle, Sun Journal
- Park director responds for Obama on North Woods monument effort — Nick Sambides Jr, BDN
- ‘The new normal’: Displaced millworkers commuting, renting to remain in struggling industry — John Holyoke, BDN
- Letter causes confusion around EBT photo cards — CBS 13
- Maine legislative panel plants seeds to help medical marijuana thrive — Scott Thistle, Sun Journal
- Democratic contenders clash repeatedly, but civilly — Dan Balz and Abby Phillip, The Washington Post
- Court documents: Buyer interested in Lincoln paper machine — Nick Sambides Jr. BDN
Anti reading list
My 11-year-old son has been hooked on a book. He was glued to it for two hours the other night as he finished the final chapters well past his bedtime. The next morning he was already scouring the house for his next read. He was disappointed at first when I told him he’d be bored by some selections off my shelf: “The Chomsky Reader” by Noam Chomsky and “The Post-American World” by Fareed Zakaria.
Him: But I’m reading grownup books now.
Me: Yeah but those are all about philosophy and politics.
Him: Oh. Yuck.
My colleague, Michael Shepherd, when I posted this story on my Facebook page: “Fathers, Don’t Let Your Sons Grow Up to be Political Reporters.”
Amen. — Christopher Cousins