Politics

July 20, 2013

LePage plan to hire Miss Maine USA drew rebuff

In emails from 2011, education chief Stephen Bowen said he could not justify hiring a ‘beauty queen’ amid a fiscal crunch.

By Michael Shepherd mshepherd@mainetoday.com
State House Bureau

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20110625_LobsterFest
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Gov. Paul LePage poses with Miss Maine USA Ashley Marble in 2011. He wanted to give her a job promoting education.

2011 file photo/Gordon Chibroski

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Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen

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PDF: E-Mails about Miss Maine as education ambassador

He wrote that the ambassador position was one that the department had never had, adding that the department had been trying to hire a CTE director for six months.

"How can I say we are doing everything we can to support schools while paying Miss Maine to travel around the state talking about how great CTE is?" Bowen wrote to Nass.

"Not to work in CTE, by the way, or train people to teach in CTE, or actually teach CTE herself or work with kids, but just go around and do presentations in high school gyms while kids look at pictures of her in bikinis on their cell phones," he continued.

Marble disputed that characterization, saying she was "more than just a bikini and a pretty face," and that though she didn't attend a two-year college, she could speak about education options she wished she knew about in high school.

The Portland Press Herald profiled Marble in 2012, detailing her recovery from mental illness and a debilitating ankle injury sustained while playing recreational basketball.

She detailed a history of depression and anorexia, an eating disorder, the latter stemming from pressure to maintain her weight as a scholarship volleyball player at the University of Maine, where she went before transferring to USM, where she developed depression.

Still, she scored 1,981 points in her basketball career at USM. In 2007, she was named to the College Sports Information Directors of America academic all-America team. She graduated that year with a degree in sports medicine and exercise science.

In a written statement Friday, LePage spokesman Peter Steele praised Marble's athletic and academic accomplishments, saying "she would serve as an outstanding spokeswoman for any number of causes, including career and technical education."

"Her story overcoming challenges in order to succeed is an inspiration for all Mainers, speaking to the strength of her character," he added.

MEA WEIGHS IN

Steele said the administration wouldn't comment more because it was a personnel matter. Department of Education spokeswoman Samantha Warren said that other than Bowen's apology, the department wouldn't comment.

The Kennebec Journal was provided images of the emails discussing Marble by a source who requested anonymity Thursday night. Immediately afterward, the newspaper filed a Freedom of Access Act request with LePage's office seeking the emails.

On Friday morning -- before the administration confirmed receipt of the newspaper's request -- the Maine Education Association agreed to provide the emails to the Kennebec Journal at the newspaper's request. The teachers union had obtained the emails through its own public records request.

The liberal union and the Republican governor's office have often clashed over education policy since LePage became governor in 2011, when he was backed by a Republican-led Legislature. Democrats retook control in 2013.

MEA spokeswoman Giovanna Bechard said the document was part of a public-access request seeking emails between Nass and Bowen filed by the union in fall 2012 that yielded thousands of pages of documents.

Through House Republicans spokesman David Sorensen, Rep. Matthew Pouliot, R-Augusta, a member of the Legislature's Education Committee, declined to comment Friday.

Rep. Matthea Daughtry, D-Brunswick, also on the committee, said Marble seems "phenomenally talented," and some of Bowen's language directed toward her was harsh.

But she said Bowen's criticism of the potential hire was "spot on" -- hiring a new person to an unproven position wouldn't have been a smart move.

"There's positions that have been frozen for a long time and they need qualified people," Daughtry said. "It's sort of a slap in the face."

Rob Walker, executive director of the MEA, said the department has many needs, and it should fill positions demanding highly qualified applicants.

"It struck me as cronyism, maybe, where the governor wants someone hired without thinking about whether she'd be best for the job," he said. "Nothing against Ashley Marble, but we want someone who can do the job."

Michael Shepherd can be contacted at 621-5632 or at:

mshepherd@mainetoday.com 

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Today's poll: Hiring of Miss Maine

Do you agree with Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen’s response to Gov. LePage’s proposal that Miss Maine be hired?

Yes

No

View Results

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