A Republican gubernatorial candidate issued a statement Saturday answering charges that his campaign plagiarized an answer to a political website’s questionnaire on education policy.

But Les Otten’s initial mea culpa, posted on the website Augusta Insider – augustainsider.us – didn’t sit well with Stephen Bowen of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, whose work Otten is accused of calling his own.

Bowen posted an angry response on the policy center’s own website, saying he is “not buying it.”

The political kerfuffle began when the Augusta Insider website teamed up with another website, Dirigo Blue, to develop a survey on education policy for all of the Blaine House candidates. The candidates’ answers were posted Friday.

“I got a comment on the blog that said, ‘Well, you should take a look at Les Otten’s response to this particular question because it’s awfully similar to something written by Stephen Bowen from the Maine Heritage Policy Center that he testified on last March,’” said Derek Viger, administrator of the site.

“I took a minute to look at Stephen’s testimony,” Viger said, “and realized (Otten’s answer) was basically an exact copy, word for word. I notified Stephen at once.”

Bowen said he began getting e-mails and phone calls from people asking him about it.

The Otten camp sent in an apology and explanation, which was posted at the bottom of the questionnaire Saturday. The campaign noted that Otten and his staff had met with Bowen and his colleagues, and that they had “pointed us toward this public testimony.”

Otten’s response gave credit to Bowen and apologized “for the inadvertent oversight as the final draft of our response was being prepared. This is an error of omission, not an error of commission.”

Otten said in a phone interview Saturday that there were only two paragraphs out of 50 that were not attributed to Bowen. Bowen, however, claims the situation is more serious than that. Whoever wrote the material, he says, didn’t simply lift it but rewrote and edited it, taking his work and turning it into bullet points.

Otten said a staffer made the mistake of not attributing the material, but Otten reviewed it “so I have to take responsibility.” He said he had called both Bowen and Tarren Bragdon, chief executive officer of the policy center, to apologize.

“I want to be very clear,” Otten said. “We made an error. We were made aware of the error, and we immediately corrected it and apologized for it. I’d like to tell you that I’m perfect. I’m not. But what I do believe is that when you make a mistake you need to own up to it immediately and apologize for it, and that’s what I’ve done.”

Viger said he didn’t take the incident personally, but he understands why Bowen is upset.

“I had just intended on providing a service for the voters,” he said. “I’m an education policy major, so it’s something that I’m really interested in.

“It was just to give information to the voters, so in that respect I’m disappointed that someone wouldn’t take it seriously and would try to pass off someone else’s work as their own.”

Bowen said he worried that the phrasing of Otten’s written apology might lead some people to believe that the policy center, a conservative think tank, endorses certain candidates by helping them.

“The tone of their response is, I guess, what bugged me,” Bowen said Saturday. “It suggested it was inadvertent and accidental, and I don’t believe it was.”

Bowen said that when Otten called him Saturday to apologize, “He said, ‘I should have stayed on top of it, and I didn’t.’”

So is he satisfied with that response?

“To the extent that gubernatorial candidates are using our information, that’s a good thing,” Bowen said. “That’s what we want. We want to be a part of the public policy discussion in Maine. We just ask that you give us the proper credit for it, that’s all.”

Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:

[email protected]