FALMOUTH — The Maine Senate rejected one of Gov. Paul LePage’s three nominees for the University of Maine System board of trustees Tuesday after questions arose about her views on social and educational issues.

Susan Dench of Falmouth, a marketing professional and former newspaper blogger who now leads a nonprofit group that promotes conservative ideas, was rejected in a 17-15 party line vote that reflected the Democratic majority, with one independent senator voting to confirm her.

The result drew a rebuke of Democratic lawmakers from LePage and Dench.

“I’m very disappointed in the outcome of today. I think I’m very well qualified to contribute to the board and to move the university forward. I very much appreciate the support of Republican senators today,” Dench said in a brief interview at her home. “I think this is really a partisan vote that was a stick in the eye to Governor LePage.”

Dench said she believes she was treated unfairly, “and a lot of people agree with me.” She declined to comment further.

The governor, for his part, said Dench was rejected because her views are divergent from those of liberal lawmakers on the Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee, a precedent that could have a chilling effect on attracting candidates for public service with diverse views.

“It is a sad day when alternative views are stifled in a university environment,” LePage said in a statement. “We need diverse perspectives, whether someone is conservative, liberal or moderate. After all, isn’t this the premise of a liberal arts education?”

The members of the 16-seat board of trustees are unpaid, and serve five-year terms. The board is responsible for authorizing spending decisions and educational policies for the university  system.

Dench first drew scrutiny during a hearing Sept. 26 before the education committee, where speakers pointed to her writings and tweets expressing support for traditional gender roles, English-only instruction, and the position that people who immigrate to the United States illegally should not be able to use taxpayer-funded programs. “I’m not going to be bullied into not sharing my personal views,” she said during the hearing. “I have detractors, but I have a lot of people who agree with me.”

She was also accused of plagiarism in a 2013 blog post for the Bangor Daily News by a University of Maine professor, but she denied those allegations. The newspaper’s opinion page editor defended Dench’s work and said the blog was properly sourced. She stopped writing for the newspaper in July.

The committee voted 8-6 along party lines not to recommend her appointment.

The Senate confirmed two other nominees to the UMaine System board: James Donnelly of Brewer and Samuel Collins of Caribou. Donnelly is a former state representative and current executive vice present of Machias Savings Bank. Collins is the brother of U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and an owner of a lumber and building company in Caribou. Dench is the first university system board nominee who has been rejected since at least the 1970s. With Tuesday’s Senate votes, LePage has successfully nominated 10 others to the University of Maine System board.

Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at:
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