AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov.-elect Paul LePage has appointed his daughter, Lauren, to a staff position within the upper echelon of his administration, members of the LePage transition team said Wednesday.
Lauren LePage, 22, will serve as assistant to the governor’s chief of staff, John McGough — a position that administration officials describe as entry-level and is commensurate with her experience, work history and education.
LePage, a recent college graduate, will be a salaried political appointee earning approximately $41,000 a year, according to Dan Demeritt, incoming director of communications in the LePage administration.
“Lauren LePage has been an extremely valuable member of the campaign and the transition,” Demeritt told the Bangor Daily News in an e-mail. “She worked more than full-time as the assistant to the policy director during our successful gubernatorial campaign and she is managing policy and constituent concerns during the transition.”
Maine governors have wide discretion in creating staff positions within their offices, filling those positions and setting salaries. Because such appointments are political positions — known as “special assistants to the governor” — there are no rules barring Maine’s chief executive from hiring family members.
In a communication with the LePage team, Joyce Oreskovitch, acting director of human resources for the state, affirmed that Maine’s rules on prohibiting nepotism do not apply in such staffing decisions.
“Direct appointments made by elective or constitutional officers, including the governor, are neither ‘classified’ nor ‘unclassified,’” Oreskovitch wrote, referring to the two state classifications for nonpolitical state employees. “They are political appointments not subject to any of the Civil Service Law’s provisions.”
Lauren LePage was a familiar face during the latter months of her father’s gubernatorial campaign, often accompanying him to events although not playing a public role. She since has maintained a similar behind-the-scenes role during the transition, preparing briefings on policy matters and handling public suggestions on budget cuts and regulatory reform.
On Wednesday, Lauren LePage said that although she did not study politics in college, she enjoyed her work on the gubernatorial campaign and saw this as a unique opportunity. LePage said she realizes some likely will disagree with her appointment.
“I’m ready to get to work and prove myself,” she said.
LePage critics likely will seize on his decision to hire such a close family member.
Throughout the campaign and since, LePage pledged to surround himself with “the best and the brightest” and to avoid political cronyism. But he also has stressed the importance of loyalty to his political agenda, especially when it comes to commissioner positions.
“I’m looking for someone who has thick skin, because I believe there’s going to be some tough work ahead,” LePage said in late November when announcing the people who would help him vet commissioner candidates. “And there has to be a chemistry between myself and the individual.”
Douglas Hodgkin, a professor emeritus at Bates College who has been observing Maine politics for decades, said both governors and presidents typically hire political or business allies “who they can count on to be loyal.”
Hodgkin could not immediately recall a similar situation to LePage hiring his daughter but said there are plenty of examples elsewhere, such as when President John F. Kennedy chose his brother Robert to be attorney general.
“There are people who are absolutely opposed to this governor, and they will latch onto anything that could be seen as nepotism,” Hodgkin said. “There will be some downside, but Paul LePage has a thick skin.”
Sen. Barry Hobbins, a Saco Democrat who is Senate minority leader, said the reality is governors have broad discretion in selecting staff.
“I’m sure she is very capable and I’m sure that the governor thought about this,” said Hobbins, a fixture in Maine politics for several decades. “Some people might be critical but I personally am not critical of it. He has the right to choose” his staffers.
David Farmer, spokesman for Gov. John Baldacci, said salaries for administrative positions within the current governor’s office have ranged from the just under $30,000 to more than $60,000, depending on job responsibilities and years of service.
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