AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Maine Gov. Paul LePage figured Democrats would shoot down his choice for education commissioner, so he withdrew the nomination. And on Thursday, he named himself to lead the department instead.
The famously pugnacious Republican governor made the announcement Thursday at a Chamber of Commerce breakfast that he planned to circumvent confirmation hearings amid an ongoing feud with the Legislature, most recently a recent spat over accommodations for transgender students.
He said Acting Commissioner William Beardsley will become deputy commissioner in April and continue running the department, but LePage plans to sign any documents required of a commissioner.
Speaking with reporters later outside his State House office, LePage expressed frustration with the confirmation process and said he's seen lawmakers destroy people's careers.
"I am not going to play no more," he said, substituting an expletive for what he considers confirmation hearings to be. "We have too much work to do than play these silly, foolish, political, rhetoric games."
On Tuesday, LePage withdrew Beardsley's nomination because he said Democrats planned to use the hearing as a platform to advance an "activist political agenda."
Senate Democrats released a statement saying that LePage is circumventing a requirement in the Maine Constitution that the state's top education chief be confirmed by the Maine Senate.
"The governor is making a mockery of both the importance of the commissioner's role and of educating our children," said Sen. Rebecca Millett, the lead Senate Democrat on the Education Committee. "For whatever reason, he doesn't believe Mr. Beardsley will be confirmed by the Legislature. But instead of letting the confirmation process play out, he's trying to bend the rules so that he can hand-pick the state's top education official without bothering with pesky Constitutional requirements like confirmation."
The Attorney General's Office declined to comment on the constitutional issues related LePage's move.
LePage has become nationally known for his colorful comments, including his assertion that drug dealers with names like "D-Money, Smoothie, Shifty" come to Maine to sell heroin and "impregnate a young white girl before they leave." He later apologized, calling it a slip of the tongue.
But Democrats in the state say his penchant for controversy crosses a constitutional line. Last month LePage survived a push toward impeachment for alleged abuses of power, such as when he pressured a nonprofit to rescind a job offer for a political foe.
The governor's spokeswoman, Adrienne Bennett, said Maine law allows Beardsley to serve as acting commissioner for six months and then as deputy commissioner.
Rob Walker, executive director of the teachers' union, the Maine Education Association, said he believes that LePage's plan to serve as commissioner is legally possible but not practical.
"I don't think it's right," he said. "It's hard to imagine that one person will be deputy commissioner, and somebody else will sign the papers."
LePage said the Democrats oppose Beardsley because they are upset that LePage stopped the process for issuing rules protecting transgender students.
While that issue plays a role, Walker said, the bigger issue is that Beardsley has no experience in public education.
Also, Walker said some lawmakers have questions about whether Beardsley, a former 22-year president of Husson University, knew about child sexual abuse accusations against late Husson chaplain Robert Carlson, who committed suicide in 2013 after police began investigating the charges.
Information from: Sun-Journal, http://www.sunjournal.com