AUGUSTA – Sparks flew on Tuesday as Gov. Paul R. LePage’s nominee to head the board of directors of the Dirigo Health Agency (DHA) blasted his critics and unexpectedly withdrew his nomination during a heated hearing of the Insurance and Financial Services Committee.
“There were many things said about me last Tuesday. Some of them were true,” said former Republican Rep. Jonathan McKane of Newcastle in reference to the March 5 hearing in which the committee rejected his nomination by an 8-5 party line vote.
“I was accused of misogyny, of wanting to deny women the right to vote, of saying things publicly that I didn’t say – or things that were taken out of context, and, I have also been accused of wanting health care to be more expensive and of lower quality,” said McKane. “I was not allowed to respond at last Tuesday’s hearing and I am grateful to have the opportunity to do so now,” he said.
Committee Co-Chair Rep. Sharon Treat (D-Hallowell), a chief critic of McKane who helped orchestrate the March 5 nomination hearing, was absent from today’s re-nomination hearing. Co-Chair Sen. Geoff Gratwick (D-Bangor) oversaw the proceedings and offered an explanation for why McKane was not allowed to rebut earlier testimonies impinging his character.
“Because the nominee testified first and because those who testified at the hearing did not provide written testimony, Mr. McKane was not offered a chance to respond to their testimonies,” Gratwick said. “I am re-opening this hearing for the limited purpose of allowing Mr. McKane to respond to those testimonies,” said Gratwick.
After some confusion regarding the proper parliamentary procedure for a re-nomnation proceeding, McKane took the podium and gave his testimony.
“I was asked by someone this weekend, ‘Why are you going back? You won’t change any minds,’” said McKane. “I said, ‘I know. I have a feeling that their minds were made before last Tuesday’s hearing ever began.’”
“But I told her I felt it was important to stand up to the ridiculous, baseless insults that were part of a coordinated attack from the Left,” said McKane.
McKane has long been an outspoken advocate for private market health care solutions and has drawn the ire of Democrats and leftist organizations for challenging taxpayer-funded health care programs like DHA.
Several State House sources said Democrats ambushed McKane during last week’s confirmation hearing because he is seen as the Republican point-person on matters pertaining to health care including PL90 and an initiative that broke the Maine Education Association’s monopoly on teachers’ health insurance coverage.
At one point in McKane’s testimony, Gratwick attempted to interrupt him. “With all due respect, Senator, you shut me up last time, you’re not going to do it again,” said McKane.
Gratwick fell silent as McKane proceeded to lampoon the three leftist groups involved in last week’s attempted character assassination: the Maine Education Association, Consumers for Affordable Health Care, and Maine People’s Alliance.
“The Maine Education Association and I have gone toe-to-toe on several issues. Recently on LD 1326 which at long last allowed school districts to look outside the MEA for health insurance,” said McKane.
“This was a hard fought battle and although the bill passed, the battle continues. I have also called them out on other issues, including their ‘legislative scorecard’ which was less about education than it was about pushing the Left’s ideology,” he said.
“I will openly admit that I believe Consumers for Affordable Health Care to be neither a consumers’ group nor for affordable health care. I believe them to be a well-paid lobbying group for single payer health care,” said McKane. “They have been complicit in making Maine the most expensive place in the country to buy health insurance,” he said.
“And the Maine People’s Alliance is another well-organized and well-funded hard-left activist group, also seeking single-payer, and I think even their members would agree with that statement,” said McKane.
“These are three powerful groups who control much in Maine politics,” said McKane.
“It’s not as though none of us have seen these kinds of attacks from these folks before,” he said. “We all saw them fairly recently, especially during last fall’s campaign season.”
“We watched good people, good legislators – Les Fossel, Kim Olsen, Ryan Harmon, Heather Sirocki, Deb Sanderson and Nichi Farnham be attacked relentlessly and painted as hard-core ideologues; in the pockets of banks, corporations and insurance companies, worked against women, retirees, the disabled, children, the poor and the environment,” said McKane. “And the attacks were carried out and funded by big money from some of the very groups represented at last week’s confirmation hearing.”
McKane, who is rumored to be contemplating a bid for State Senate, also took at the absent Rep. Sharon Treat. “I was accused of wanting higher cost and poorer quality health care in a written statement by the House chair when she knows I worked for the past eight years on exactly the opposite,” said McKane. “Obviously that is not true.”
“We have and had a difference of opinion and so did pretty much all Republicans over the past decade. In fact, [Rep. David Richardson (R-Hamden)], whom you voted unanimously to confirm last week also opposed Dirigo and voted identically to me on health insurance issues and Dirigo issues in both the committee and in the House for our entire eight years,” said McKane.
“My views were not more extreme than any other Republican over the life of the Dirigo program. Our big question was – How can you make health care cheaper by taxing it?” said McKane. “The difference with me was that I spoke out and spoke out regularly about it when few others did and the newspapers were defending the Baldacci program at all costs,” he said.
“I take offense at the implication that I would not be able to work with those with whom I disagreed because I have for my entire eight years,” said McKane.
“I am proud of my record. And despite all of this negativity, I will continue to be outspoken, especially when I see tax dollars squandered on poorly thought-out experiments that use thee Maine people as guinea pigs,” said McKane.
“It’s too bad others hadn’t spoken out earlier with some of the other quasi-governmental agencies such as the Maine Turnpike Authority and the Maine State Housing Authority. Perhaps those abuses and that waste wouldn’t have been so egregious,” he said.
“I would encourage everyone listening to speak up when they see what they believe to be wrong,” said McKane. “I would also encourage them when they post on Facebook, Twitter, AsMaineGoes or any other site that may be read by others to choose your words carefully as if they were going to be on the front page of the newspaper, as they very well may be,” said McKane.
“I’m sure I will see you all soon when the health insurance hearings begin,” McKane said with a grin. “And, on that note, I withdraw my nomination to the Dirigo Health board of trustees.”
McKane’s decision to withdraw his name from consideration came as a surprise to Democratic committee members including Gratwick who struggled to conduct subsequent proceedings despite the assistance of House Clerk Millicent M. MacFarland and Senate Secretary Darek Grant. Several onlookers at the hearing said MacFarland and Grant’s presence at the hearing was highly unusual.
A spokesman from the Governor’s office told The Maine Wire that LePage intends to leave the board spot McKane was nominated for vacant.