January 26, 2011

Maine Senate Democrats take issue with Philip Congdon's nomination

Some say the LePage Cabinet nominee lacks experience in economic development for Maine.

By Susan M. Cover scover@mainetoday.com
State House Bureau

AUGUSTA — The Maine Senate approved three LePage Cabinet nominees on Tuesday, giving two unanimous support and one a 26-9 vote of approval.

The Senate voted 35-0 to confirm Bill Beardsley of Ellsworth as conservation commissioner and Norman Olsen of Cherryfield as commissioner of the Department of Marine Resources.

But nine Democrats voted against Philip Congdon of Bristol becoming commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development.

One of the nine, Sen. Justin Alfond of Portland, said there are "major gaps" in Congdon's resume. "This job is too important to give to someone who will be getting on-the-job training," he said.

Alfond said Congdon, 69, lacks background in tourism and was unprepared for legislators' questions during his confirmation hearing last week.

"I'm dismayed by the lack of preparation for the hearing," he said. "He hasn't even considered economic development in Aroostook County."

Congdon spent 22 years with Texas Instruments in Dallas. An engineer by trade, he is a graduate of Tufts University in Massachusetts and holds more than a dozen U.S. and foreign patents, according to his resume.

For 30 years, he has worked in management, business development, contract negotiation, government relations and intellectual property protection for technology firms.

Congdon's nomination as commissioner was endorsed unanimously by the Legislature's new Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee.

During his nomination hearing, however, he told the committee that his experience in economic development is "thin."

Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, voted for Congdon in committee but switched his vote on Tuesday.

"I listened to the nominee for one and a half hours and was struck by how honest and candid he was on a number of questions," Jackson said on the floor of the Senate.

But when he went home to Aroostook County, Jackson said, he received e-mails from constituents who had concerns about Congdon's qualifications.

At the nomination hearing, Jackson asked Congdon how he planned to attract business to Aroostook County and other rural areas of Maine. Congdon replied, "It's (a question) I haven't thought about."

Senate Republicans said they were surprised by the push-back from Democrats on Tuesday, given the unanimous committee vote.

Senate Majority Leader Jon Courtney, R-Sanford, said Congdon's resume was "much better than most of us sitting in this room."

"It's a new day in Augusta," he said. "It's a day when we're going to look at things differently than before. He's an eminently qualified candidate. He will more than rise to the occasion."

After the vote, Congdon, while hurrying to get to Gov. Paul LePage's office to be sworn in, said he wasn't worried about the opposition from Democrats.

"I didn't expect it," he said. "I don't think the committee chairs expected it. I'm not concerned."


MaineToday Media State House Writer Susan Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at: scover@mainetoday.com


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