AUGUSTA – More than 30 business and community leaders from across the state gathered in Augusta on Tuesday to begin helping Gov.-elect Paul LePage develop policy proposals and vet candidates for top posts within his administration.
In announcing the makeup of his transition advisory team, LePage said that while no sample of people could include all interests, the 35 individuals who have agreed to help with the transition are “a very good representative of Maine and its people.”
The diverse group of volunteers includes business owners, representatives of the nonprofit world, former mayors and city councilors, doctors, academics and a handful of political activists. While the list is stacked with Republicans, it includes a number of Democrats as well as a prominent tea party activist in Maine.
One of the biggest tasks of the advisory team will be narrowing the field of candidates for Cabinet-level positions within the LePage administration.
“We are looking for the best and the brightest without concern of political party or labels,” LePage said during a State House news conference. “We have a job to do, and we want to do the job as best we can.”
LePage said his staff already has received about 1,000 resumes.
It is estimated that LePage – Maine’s first Republican governor since John McKernan left office in 1995 – will have to fill about 150 positions as political appointees and staff members within the Democratic administration of Gov. John Baldacci are forced to leave their posts.
Additionally, the Republican takeover of the House and Senate means that hundreds of Democratic political staffers throughout Augusta will be looking for work in the coming weeks.
The governor-elect said he would consider rehiring Baldacci administration officials but added, “They would have to resign and reapply.”
The transition team won’t have to worry about narrowing the candidate pool for two state agencies, however. LePage said Tuesday that he already has people in mind for commissioners of the Department of Conservation and the Department of Public Safety, although he declined to give names.
Among those mentioned for the DOC post is former Husson University president and GOP gubernatorial candidate Bill Beardsley. Beardsley, who worked in the energy sector before joining Husson, is also a member of LePage’s transition advisory team.
Beardsley said he hopes his experiences in education and energy will be useful as the team develops policy proposals and considers the resumes of potential administration officials.
“I campaigned against Paul [during the primary] but I said that I would fully support whoever won, and I fully support Paul,” Beardsley said. He added that the transition team is “a good cross-section” of conservatives, moderates and some liberals.
One Democrat who was asked to serve on the team was outgoing Sen. Lisa Marrache of Waterville, who served as assistant majority leader in the Senate last legislative session.
Marrache said she has known LePage for years going back to when they served together on the Waterville City Council. A physician, Marrache is one of several health care professionals serving on the advisory team.
“I’m happy to offer whatever I can to help Paul,” she said.
The team includes several names that would ring familiar in Republican circles, including: longtime tax activist Mary Adams of Garland, former Senate president and current Maine Republican National Committeeman Richard Bennett of Oxford and former state Sen. Leo Kieffer of Caribou.
And in a nod to tea party activists who helped him during the campaign, LePage enlisted Pete Harring of Standish to serve on his team. Harring, also known as “Pete the Carpenter,” is webmaster of the Maine Tea Party-Maine ReFounders website and a vocal member of the political movement in Maine.
Harring’s involvement drew fire from Mike Tipping of the Maine People’s Alliance, who called Harring a “tea party extremist.”
As one example, Tipping pointed to a statement that Harring made online comparing liberals to Slinkys, saying both are “really good for nothing, but still bring a smile to your face when you push them down the stairs.”
LePage spokesman Dan Demeritt defended Harring’s inclusion on the team, saying he represents the views of thousands of frustrated Mainers.
“Gov.-elect LePage does not always agree with everything Pete has to say, but he believes Pete has a viewpoint that should be heard,” Demeritt said in a statement.
Only 16 of the 35 advisory team members contributed money to LePage’s campaign, according to campaign finance reports filed with the state. Of the 16 who contributed, 10 people gave the maximum amount of $750.
In other news, the LePage administration also is soliciting private donations of up to $9,500 to cover the administrative costs associated with the transition and to pay for the inaugural celebration. The state allocates $5,000 to help with the transition process, but the LePage campaign has indicated it would not use taxpayer money.
Both Baldacci and former Gov. Angus King also accepted private donations to cover the costs of the transition and inaugural festivities.
Demeritt said the team plans to begin posting the names of donors to the transition effort in early December, likely on the website www.lepagetransition.com.
“I don’t think anything requires us to do that, but Paul wants to make sure everyone can look at it,” Demeritt said. Additionally, in order to keep costs down, Demeritt said the governor-elect is planning a relatively low-key post-inauguration reception at the Augusta Civic Center rather than an inaugural gala.