LePage slow to fill Cabinet posts

Gov.-elect Paul LePage is seen in November announcing Sawin Millett as one of cabinet selections.  Officials with the LePage transition team say they are having trouble filling Cabinet posts because of relatively low pay and competition from other states. (AP Photo)
Pat Wellenbach | AP
Gov.-elect Paul LePage is seen in November announcing Sawin Millett as one of cabinet selections. Officials with the LePage transition team say they are having trouble filling Cabinet posts because of relatively low pay and competition from other states. (AP Photo)
Posted Dec. 29, 2010, at 8:36 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 03, 2011, at 12:04 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Representatives of Gov.-elect Paul LePage’s transition team said Wednesday that the selection process for Cabinet post nominees is proceeding more slowly than anticipated and will continue after the Republican is inaugurated next week.

Earlier this month, LePage had said he hoped to name all of his nominees for commissioners within his administration by the end of the year — a timeline that the Republican governor-elect himself acknowledged was aggressive and ambitious.

But as of Wednesday, only four of the 16 nominees had been named. And transition team representatives said there were no plans to make additional announcements this week, although some nominations may be unveiled next week before the inauguration.

“Under any scenario, I believe by the end of January they will be complete,” said Tarren Bragdon, one of the transition team leaders and chief executive officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center. “There is a lot of activity.”

LePage will take the oath of office on Jan. 5.

Dan Demeritt, spokesman for LePage, said the team is talking with members of the outgoing administration of Gov. John Baldacci to ensure that all departments will continue to have leadership during the transition.

“The services the departments offer are going to continue,” Demeritt said. “The clients and the citizens are not going to notice a difference.”

One reason for the slower progress, according to Demeritt, is the large number of Republican governors about to take office nationwide. As a result, top candidates for some offices are being heavily recruited nationally.

“We have talked to a couple who have had multiple offers from other states,” Demeritt said.

Then there is the issue of pay.

Two weeks ago, LePage told a reporter that limits on how much the state can pay commissioners “is adversely affecting our ability to get the best people.” He gave the example of one candidate for the Department of Health and Human Services who declined an offer because he or she could not take the pay cut.

Although the DHHS commissioner can earn up to $134,000 a year, many executives in the health care field earn several times that.

“Highly accomplished people in those fields are highly compensated,” Demeritt said Wednesday. “As Paul talked about, we have had a couple of people turn down offers because of the compensation package.” Not surprisingly, the most difficult positions to fill are in the largest and most complex state agencies: the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Education and the Department of Corrections.

Although LePage had hoped to have his proposed list of Cabinet members in place before Inauguration Day, there is no statutory deadline for submitting nominations to the Legislature for approval.

After his first election in 2002, Baldacci announced many of his Cabinet picks in November and December but was still announcing other nominations more than a month after his inauguration.

For instance, Baldacci announced his nominees for the Department of Education and the Department of Transportation in mid-February. Other recent governors have tried to have a solid core of their commissioners nominated by early January.

“It certainly was a challenging task,” said Larry Benoit, an attorney and former congressional staffer who headed Baldacci’s transition effort. “We wanted to be very conscientious and very careful about those selections.”

Benoit said pay levels also were an issue for some positions in 2002. The reality is that executives in the private sector who oversee thousands of employees and budgets in the hundreds of millions of dollars are often paid much more than comparable positions in the public sector, Benoit said.

Bragdon said not many individuals have turned down offers from the LePage camp.

In some instances, the transition team has interviewed as many as 12 applicants before recommending two to the governor-elect. Bragdon said the team is completing the background checks and other paperwork for some nominees.

“Once the Cabinet is in place, I think people will be very pleased with the quality of the candidates,” Bragdon said.

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