Inside Augusta

Beardsley Nomination Temporarily Withdrawn

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Today, Governor Paul LePage announced that he was withdrawing, albeit temporarily, the nomination of Dr. Bill Beardsley as commissioner of the Maine Department of Education.

The move, according to the governor’s press release, was in response to a planned unanimous “no” vote from the Democratic members of the Education Committee. In a statement, the governor blamed partisan political games for the situation:

“I am temporarily withdrawing Dr. Beardsley’s nomination because Democrats on the Joint Standing Committee on Education are planning to unanimously oppose him solely for partisan political games, without regard to his impeccable qualifications,” said Governor LePage. “Let me be perfectly clear: I have enormous respect for Dr. Beardsley, and I have full confidence in his qualifications. He is my choice for commissioner of DOE, but I will not allow him to be a political whipping boy for socialist Democrats.”

At issue appears to how Maine is dealing with transgendered students, and the brewing conflict between left-wing groups and their allies in Augusta, and the governor’s office over the issue.

In short, the crux of the problem is the 2014 Maine Supreme Judicial Court decision that guaranteed the right of Nicole Maines — born Wyatt Maines — a transgender teenager from Orono, to use the girl’s bathroom in school.  The governor’s office, citing the concurring opinion of the Chief Justice, which called for the Legislature to act to address concerns raised by the dissent in the case, declined to authorize joint rule-making between the Department of Education & the Maine Human Rights Commission regarding the use of bathrooms by transgendered students in schools.  The Legislature, the governor argued, must act to clarify the issue more clearly, as Chief Justice Leigh Saufley had suggested.

Saufley’s concurrence read as follows:

Put simply, it could now be argued that it would be illegal discrimination for a restaurant, for example, to prohibit a man from using the women’s communal bathroom, and vice versa. I agree with the dissent that it is highly unlikely that the Legislature actually intended that result. Accordingly, on this matter of public policy, it would benefit the public for the Legislature to act quickly to address the concern raised by the dissent in this matter.

Governor LePage agreed, saying:

“I could not agree more,” stated the Governor. “Once the Legislature fulfills its legislative duty by establishing a clear policy on this matter, the Executive Branch will move ahead with rulemaking to implement this law.”

Because the governor did not authorize rulemaking, the Commission instead issued “guidelines” — which, unlike rules, are not required to be followed and do not have penalties associated with them — to deal with the issue.

The Legislature has not acted, as both the Chief Justice and the governor have asked it to.  However, Democrats, particularly Democrats on the Education Committee, apparently have found time to try to create a spectacle, and block the nomination of Beardsley in response to the dispute.

The Maine Wire has learned that a number of demonstrations were planned during Beardsley’s hearing. The leaders of the planned demonstration, including gay rights advocacy group Equality Maine, were going to pack the hearing room with transgendered students to make a political point about transgendered rights, and distract from the fairly routine hearing. This would have been followed up by the Democrats voting unanimously against Beardsley’s nomination, including House co-chair Rep. Victoria Kornfild (D-Bangor) whose district includes Husson. This would have effectively sunk his potential leadership of the Department of Education.

Unwilling to allow Beardsley to become a pawn in this dispute, or allow the Democratic committee members to succeed in their plan, LePage temporarily withdrew the nomination.

This, according to the governor’s office, is the latest in a long line of political games that appear to have been played for several LePage nominees, including Dr. Bruce Williamson of the Maine Public Utilities Commission and Susan Dench, who was nominated to the University of Maine System’s Board of Trustees (and who, in full disclosure, now serves on the Board of Directors for The Maine Heritage Policy Center, the owners of The Maine Wire).

One thing that is certainly clear here, is that any vote against Beardsley would be for purely political reasons, as he is very much qualified for the job he was nominated for.

As he withdrew the nomination, Governor LePage wrote a letter to Department of Education staff, standing behind Beardsley, despite the withdrawal:

“In light of an announcement I will be making today, I want to make perfectly clear to all of you that Dr. Bill Beardsley and Suzan Beaudoin are the right leadership team for DOE, and they will continue uninterrupted in their roles,” he wrote. “I know that there have been several leadership transitions at DOE, and I have respect and the utmost confidence this is the right leadership team for DOE and this administration.”

About Matthew Gagnon

Matthew Gagnon, of Yarmouth, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center. Prior to his tenure at MHPC, Matt spent eight years working in national politics in Washington, D.C., most recently as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association. A Hampden native, Matt is a nationally recognized political strategist and communicator.

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