AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage vowed Thursday to take over some responsibilities of the state education commissioner rather than subject his nominee to political scrutiny, causing confusion and consternation at the State House.

LePage began the day by telling the crowd at a Lewiston business breakfast that he planned to transition acting education commissioner Bill Beardsley into the role of deputy commissioner because legislative Democrats would not give Beardsley a fair hearing to serve as Maine’s top education official. LePage withdrew Beardsley as his nominee on Tuesday.

But LePage’s added statement Thursday that “I will be commissioner” elicited criticism from the state teachers union and Democratic lawmakers who saw it as an attempt to sidestep the confirmation process for an important, high-profile Cabinet position.

Speaking to reporters several hours later, LePage clarified that he did not plan to renominate Beardsley, at least until a new Legislature is seated next year, and that he, as governor, would assume any official duties that can only be performed by a commissioner.

“I personally believe that he is a wonderful and a very brilliant educator and I want him as my commissioner of education,” LePage told reporters Thursday afternoon. “So I’m going to put him in the position of acting commissioner. When that time expires, he will become the deputy commissioner and if anything needs the signature of a commissioner, the governor will do it.”

He then used an obscenity to blast the Legislature for engaging in “silly, foolish political-rhetoric games.”


“I am just tired of having s— shows by the Senate and the Legislature,” LePage said. “If they’d rather have me in front of the committee talking about education issues, I’d be more than happy to. That’s what’s going to happen.”

The leading Democrat on the Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee, Sen. Rebecca Millett of South Portland, said the governor is “making a mockery of the role of commissioner” and was attempting to “hand-pick the state’s top education official without bothering with pesky constitutional requirements like confirmation.”

Asked about LePage’s decision to withdraw Beardsley’s nomination and his statements Thursday morning, Millett replied: “I can’t explain why the governor does anything.”

Sen. Brian Langley, an Ellsworth Republican who co-chairs the education committee, said he believed the issue will “settle out,” but added that his committee “would have absolutely given a fair hearing” to Beardsley. Langley hopes the Department of Education will soon have more stable leadership.

“I would say it is a distraction not to have consistent leadership in the department,” Langley said, while noting that the employees are “seasoned veterans” who continue to carry out their jobs.

LePage has struggled to find – and keep – individuals to lead the Department of Education.


Beardsley is the third acting commissioner since LePage’s first commissioner, Stephen Bowen, stepped down in August 2013. Jim Rier won unanimous support from the education committee to succeed Bowen, but he stepped down less than a year later for medical reasons. Tom Desjardin was named acting commissioner in April 2015 and was replaced by Beardsley last October.

An acting commissioner can serve no more than six months. However, Maine law does not seem to require the governor to nominate a commissioner within a fixed time period.

Beardsley is a well-known figure in Augusta and around the state, having served as president of Husson University from 1987 to 2010 and as LePage’s commissioner of the Department of Conservation for several years. LePage appointed Beardsley to the State Board of Education in 2012 and to the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Council in 2015.


When he withdrew Beardsley’s nomination this week, LePage accused Democrats of planning to use his confirmation hearing “as a platform to advance an activist political agenda” regarding transgender students. The organization EqualityMaine had raised concerns about Beardsley’s nomination based on his past comments about Maine’s protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender.

LePage said it was “not a big deal” that he planned to allow Beardsley to run the daily operations of the department, even as he assumed some of the commissioner’s responsibilities, primarily to do with signing documents.


The president of Maine’s largest teachers union disagreed.

“The duty of commissioner of education is a full-time job, the deputy commissioner is also a full-time job,” Lois Kilby-Chesley, president of the Maine Education Association, said in a written statement. “To not appoint a commissioner to the Department of Education is a disservice to Maine students who deserve better. Maine students deserve a full-time commissioner who is devoted to public schools and students, and who is knowledgeable in education policy and law. The MEA maintains its extreme concern over the lack of seriousness Gov. LePage is taking with the appointment of the commissioner of education.”

Meanwhile, Bennett, LePage’s spokeswoman, characterized the governor’s comments as another example of how he uses controversial statements to gain attention for his policy initiatives.

“The governor knows how to bait reporters into stories that he wants to draw attention to,” Bennett said. “The fact is that there are people (in the Legislature) that are playing political games and he wants the public to know about that.”

Bennett’s explanation marks the second time in a week that the governor, or his staff, have said that his controversial statements are calculated attempts to gain media coverage and prompt lawmakers to act.

On Tuesday, the governor told a Bangor radio station that “I had to go screaming at the top of my lungs about black dealers” and make other “outrageous comments” to force the Legislature to take the state’s drug crisis seriously.

His explanation, however, contradicted his earlier assertion that the media and his political opponents – not he – inserted race into the drug debate by misinterpreting his statement that out-of-state dealers often “impregnate a young white girl” in Maine.


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