Maine Democratic speaker accuses GOP governor of blackmail

AP News
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Posted: Jun 24, 2015 8:42 PM
Maine Democratic speaker accuses GOP governor of blackmail

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — The Democratic speaker of the state House of Representatives accused Republican Gov. Paul LePage on Wednesday of blackmailing a charter school by threatening to withhold state funding from it to get him fired from a job there.

Rep. Mark Eves said LePage told school operator Good Will-Hinckley it had to remove Eves as president or lose $500,000 in state funds, resulting in a loss of an additional $2 million in private funds.

A lawyer for Eves said he's considering taking legal action against the governor.

"The governor's actions represent the worst kind of vendetta politics Maine has ever seen," Eves said in a statement. "If it goes unchecked, no legislator will feel safe in voting his conscience for fear that the governor will go after the legislator's family and livelihood."

Eves was expected on July 1 to assume the post of president of Good Will-Hinckley, which operates the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences, the state's first charter school.

But Good Will-Hinckley Chairman Jack Moore said it will seek a new president because it doesn't want to be involved in a "political controversy that will divert attention away from our core mission of serving children" and potentially jeopardize the future of the school.

A LePage spokeswoman didn't immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday. Earlier this month, LePage urged school officials not to hire Eves because he frequently opposed public charter schools in the Legislature. The governor is a strong supporter of charter schools and has pushed to expand them across the state.

"On behalf of all who have worked so hard to ensure that every Maine student has access to an education that is best suited to their individual needs, I must question your boards' decision to appoint a person so adamantly opposed to charter schools as president of the organization that runs one of Maine's most prominent charter schools," LePage said in a letter to the boards of the school and its operator.

Republican Sen. Roger Katz a member of the budget-writing Appropriations Committee, called the governor's actions "personal, angry and vindictive."

"Political battles are one thing. Trying to ruin someone is quite another," Katz, of Augusta, said in an email.

A lawyer for Eves accused LePage of violating the law by using taxpayer dollars as retaliation. He said Eves had hoped the governor would back down on his threat but their attempts to get him to do so have failed.

"Mark is not looking for getting into a battle with the governor, he wants to focus on the work of the Legislature," attorney David Webbert said. "But he is now out of a job that he was counting on to support his three children and his family, and at some point you have to take care of your own personal welfare."

The president of the Maine Community College System stepped down in January after LePage called on him to resign because he didn't implement initiatives the governor sought. LePage flat-funded the community colleges in his proposed budget, and John Fitzsimmons said the governor "threatened further harm" if he remained in his post.

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Follow Alanna Durkin at http://www.twitter.com/aedurkin

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This story has been corrected to show Good Will-Hinckley is the name of the school's operator, not the name of the school.