AUGUSTA – The top Republican senator on the Legislature’s Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee says Democrats’ complaints about the executive director of the Workers’ Compensation Board are part of an “orchestrated” campaign of character assassination aimed at the LePage administration.
Appointed by Republican Gov. Paul LePage in 2011, Paul Sighinolfi’s leadership on the board has led to the largest decrease in workers’ comp rates since 1998, saving Maine employers more than $15.2 million. But the director is now taking criticism from Democratic lawmakers over a staffing decision he made more than two years ago.
The present kerfuffle has its roots in Sighinolfi’s decision, in November of 2011, to replace a hearing officer assigned to NewPage paper mill in Rumford. At the time, NewPage’s owners had complained to Sighinolfi about certain actions taken by the board. He responded by replacing the hearing officer, Glen Goodnough, with a system that rotated three different hearing officers.
More than two years later, Sen. John L. Patrick (D-Rumford), chair of the LCRED Committee, is leading the crusade.
Patrick called for Sighinolfi’s resignation prior to Wednesday’s hearing. And during the hearing, he and other Democrats grilled Sighinolfi and expressed concern about the perception his decision created.
“Mr. Sighinolfi’s unilateral decision has blemished a system meant to be fair and impartial,” Patrick, himself an employee of the NewPage mill and a union member, said in a prepared statement. “This special treatment for management allowed them to pick their own judge,” he said.
But Sen. Andre Cushing (R-Penobscot), the ranking Republican on the committee, says the hearing has little to do with the propriety of Sighinolfi’s actions. According to Cushing, Patrick and other LCRED Democrats are merely playing their part in a campaign strategy aimed at discrediting LePage administration appointees.
“It’s all about their strategy to discredit the governor by attacking the people he appointed,” said Cushing. “I think it’s an orchestrated strategy. It’s not about getting facts. It’s about creating a sensation.”
Cushing criticized Patrick for the way he ran the committee hearing and for demanding Sighinolfi’s resignation before the hearing had even been held.
“Usually, when you present something to the committee, you have somebody else chair the meeting so there is no sense of impropriety,” said Cushing.
That was not the case Wednesday, as Patrick used his position as chair to lead a more than three-hour long inquisition.
Cushing said he sees the latest efforts to discredit Sighinolfi as part of the same strategy that led Democrats last year to target Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Patricia Aho and, more recently, Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew.
Rep. Lawrence Lockman (R-Amherst), an LCRED member, excused himself from the committee hearing after declaring the Democrat-led affair a “partisan witch hunt.”
“The whole thing was choreographed and stage managed,” said Lockman. “The Democrats had briefing papers and questions they shared with each other. They did not share information with Republicans. It was gotcha politics at it’s worst.”
Lockman said he has twice heard from constituents who have had issues with the workers comp board. “In both cases, [Sighinolfi] reviewed the entire case file within 24 hours and resolved both problems to everyone’s satisfaction.”
“John Patrick has picked a fight with someone who is head-and-shoulders above him in integrity,” he said.
The committee is expected to reconvene in the coming weeks to further pursue the Sighinnolfi matter, though it is not clear what actions Democrats on the committee are interested in, or capable of, taking.
Corrupt. Anyone think that Patrick wrote that statement he read?
The fact that Patrick works at the same mill and is a union member says it all. It is clear that Patrick is a mouthpiece and puppet for the union. If Patrick had any ethics, and clearly he does not, he would have recluse himself from this hearing.
Just as with the case of Mark Eves and his unethical and dishonest behavior in regards to the Maine Care expansion, this is Democrat corruption on diaplay for all to see.
Democrats are blatantly corrupt …they don’t even try to hide it anymore..
As someone that has used the workers comp. panel, It should ALWAYS have rotating judges. That is the only way it can be a truly impartial hearing. Good job, Mr.Sighinnolfi.
obliterate these liberal politicians in the next election. And seeing how Pingree lives reporting if, as well, read her silly little rag on line to lower her sales. If you buy the Portland Press, read it then give it away too someone who may buy one. Cut their sales in half.
If the guv and his people were not so blatant in their actions things would be a lot better for all of us. As far as obliterating the liberal politicians in the next election I am wondering just how many people realize that a large part of why the democrats were able to take back the legislature was the actions of the governor. In fact, I did something I have never done in my entire life and voted for democrats for the state legislature for the sole purpose of reigning in LePage who, in my opinion, is totally out of control.
Remember in November!
Well it is time to do some character assassination on the democrats! I am so sick of pussy footing around these commi jackholes.
don’t regret it
get it right here
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