Will Rogers (1879-1935) once popular cowboy, newspaper columnist, humorist and actor, famously said: “All I know is what I read in the newspapers.” Like Rogers, all I know about the Good Will-Hinckley squabble between the governor and the speaker is what I read in the newspapers. And from what I’ve read thus far, Eves’ suit against LePage has little or no merit.

In his suit, the speaker alleges that the governor violated his rights when he intervened in the Good Will-Hinckley hiring process, thereby preventing Eves’ hiring as president of that school. Specifically, Eves claims that LePage, by threatening to cut off $530,000 in state funding to the school, caused the GWH board of directors to rescind a job offer to Eves.

Certain misconceptions need to be clarified. Although GWH is usually referred to as a single entity, it actually comprises two separate schools located in Fairfield that share the same campus and are operated with the same administrative and teaching staff. GWH is a non-profit, private school founded in 1889 to serve at-risk youth, with a current enrollment of roughly 36 students. GWH’s primary source of funding is an Alfond Foundation annual grant of $530,000, supplemented by donor contributions.

The Maine Academy of Natural Sciences, GWH’s educational partner, is the first Maine statefunded charter school (now nearly 10) which came into existence in 2011 after Gov. LePage signed the enabling legislation against Democratic

— including Eves — opposition. MANS has a current enrollment of about 76 students.

A charter school state subsidy of $942,000 is MANS’ primary funding source, in addition to another $183,000 in federal monies. MANS is also eligible, but not mandated, to receive $530,000 annually in state funds at the discretion (in the sole judgment) of the governor. When considered as a single entity, GWH meets the criteria of a “private school” only by a loose definition of the word “private” since it benefits substantially from taxpayer funded MANS.

Thus, the speaker did not enter into a contract with GWH to preside exclusively over a standalone, privately-funded school, but with the twice larger taxpayer-funded MANS charter school as well. And with public funding of MANS, including Eves’ $120,000 annual salary for babysitting GWHMANS’ 112 students (the school already has a principal) comes public accountability.

It was later revealed that Bill Brown, the speaker’s paid legislative assistant who also chairs the MANS board of directors, acted as a behind-the-scenes coach to secure Eves’ appointment. Recall that it was Governor LePage who initiated and signed the legislation creating Maine charter schools in 201l. Prior to the enactment of that bill he saw the educational potential of the charter school concept by requesting $730,000 in state funds for GWH to re-open its doors which had closed in 2009, costing the jobs of more than 100 people.

Former GWH president and Maine house speaker Glenn Cummings said: “Gov. LePage put a stake in the ground when he put us in the budget.” LePage rescued GWH from the brink of extinction.

Also recall that about the time of his overnight conversion to jump aboard the charter school bandwagon, Speaker Eves stated that he “still had reservations” about charter schools. And Eves let it be known that he intended to retain his elected position as House Speaker while simultaneously heading GWH-MANS — a possible conflict of interest.

Faced with the prospect of going along with the appointment of “Maine’s most vehement anticharter school opponent” of questionable qualifications, a half-hearted commitment to head Maine’s premier charter school and the political clout to undo his signature educational achievement, the governor sent a letter to GWH expressing his “serious concerns” about Eves’ hiring. And the sharks smelled blood.

Testifying under oath before the Government Oversight Committee on Nov. 12, LePage administration aides revealed that they had met with GWH-MANS officials and expressed their lack of “support” for the school with Eves at the helm. In their zeal to implicate LePage of wrongdoing, certain members of the committee misconstrued that ambiguous comment by the governor’s aides as an explicit threat to cut off the $530,000 in state funds unless Eves’ hiring was rescinded.

But their hopes sagged when Sarah Vanderwood, a paid GWH lobbyist, testified that “There was no direct (statement) that the funding was in jeopardy. It was the sense that I got.”

They came to hear what they wanted to believe.

The committee found no evidence that LePage had broken any laws. The Attorney General later concurred.

On June 30, LePage exercised his statutory authority to pull state funding to GWH-MANS only after Eves had been fired on 24 June. He said “Yeah, I did if I could. I would, absolutely.” But coulda-wouldashoulda is not a smoking gun. Prior to June 30, there is no evidence that LePage made an explicit threat to withhold state funding. Try charging him with wishful thinking.

Now we are being treated to the sorry spectacle by pious hypocrites of the fringe left — with the tacit collusion of a one-party press in a two-party state — desperately digging for excuses to impeach the governor. Imagine if he acted more like a certain smooth-talking Democrat whose philandering with an intern constituted irrefutable evidence of disgraceful conduct in office, perjury and obstruction of justice. Instead of being the target of an inquisition, LePage could earn speaking fees of $100,000, be honored with degrees from prestigious universities and bask in the adulation of a grateful public.

Such is the schizophrenic state of Maine politics and across our fruited plain.

Case closed.


Walter J. Eno lives in Scarborough.

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