ELLSWORTH — Governor Paul LePage has temporarily withdrawn his nomination of Bill Beardsley, an Ellsworth resident and former president of Husson University, to serve as commissioner of the Maine Department of Education (DOE).
In announcing the decision Tuesday, LePage said Democratic members of the Joint Standing Committee on Education were “planning to unanimously oppose [Beardsley’s nomination] solely for partisan political games, without regard to his impeccable qualifications.”
That committee is responsible for considering the Governor’s nominations to the state’s top education post and making recommendations to the broader Legislature.
“Democrats are using Dr. Beardsley’s confirmation hearing as a platform to advance an activist political agenda,” LePage stated in a press release.
Beardsley has been acting commissioner of the DOE since October. He has also served as commissioner of the Maine Department of Conservation.
Through a DOE spokesman, Beardsley declined to comment for this story.
It also was not clear how much resistance there is to Beardsley’s nomination among Democrats on the Education Committee.
One Democrat on the committee, Rep. Brian Hubbell (D-Bar Harbor), said he had not decided how he would have voted on Beardsley’s nomination. He also described the lawmakers on the committee as open-minded.
“I really don’t have any special insight or comment on the Governor’s decision,” Hubbell wrote in an email. “I do know that our committee takes its responsibilities seriously in any confirmation process. We are also pretty good at keeping our minds scrupulously open to all testimony through any public hearing.
“So, with whomever the Governor puts forward for this highly important position, we look forward to a substantive and transparent discussion about leadership in the state’s strategic education plan for the benefit of all Maine students.”
Asked if he had decided how he would vote on Beardsley’s nomination, Hubbell added, “Honestly, no. It would be improper to come to a public hearing with a set position and my mind remains open to any testimony.”
Following LePage’s announcement, two groups released statements questioning Beardsley’s record.
Equality Maine, an organization advocating for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Mainers, spoke out against his becoming the next commissioner of the DOE.
The group referred to a 2010 comment by Beardsley, who was then running for governor, in which he opposed protecting gender and sexual orientation under the Maine Human Rights Act.
Lois Kilby Chesley, president of the Maine Education Association, a union representing public school teachers, said her organization never took an official position on Beardsley’s nomination.
But, Chesley added, members of the group were concerned that Beardsley, during his time as president at Husson University, had knowledge about sexual abuse allegations made against the late Rev. Robert Carlson. At the time, Carlson was a chaplain on the campus.
LePage said he would renominate Beardsley “once Democrats put aside their childish and immature political games.”
Beardsley will remain acting commissioner of the DOE.
The Governor’s strong words notwithstanding, at least one Democratic lawmaker continues to speak well of Beardsley.
Rep. Louis Luchini (D-Ellsworth) is not on the Education Committee and could not speak to the views of its members.
“Most of the reports of opposition have come from the Governor’s Office. I haven’t heard reps take public positions against Bill,” Luchini wrote in an email.
But, Luchini continued, “What I can say from personal experience, I’ve known and been friends with Bill and the Beardsley family for as long as I can remember. Bill is a good man, and has tremendous experience in the field of education.”