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No women? Group calls for diversity in LePage cabinet

Pat Wellenbach | AP
Pat Wellenbach | AP
Gov . Paul LePage, background center, holds his first cabinet meeting with staff at the State House in Augusta, Maine on Monday, Jan. 10, 2011. (AP Photo/Pat Wellenbach)
By Jeff Tuttle, BDN Staff

AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage is asking Maine’s department heads to hold off on rule-making and to consult him before acting on urgent matters. Meanwhile, a women’s advocacy group is criticizing the new governor for, to date, failing to name any women to his Cabinet.
The Republican governor met Monday morning with acting commissioners and those left from the previous administration. LePage thanked them for assisting with the transition and making sure that state agencies continue to have leadership while he selects his own Cabinet and works through the confirmation process.
Just after LePage finished his first meeting with the Cabinet, the Maine Women’s Lobby issued a news release critical of the new governor’s failure thus far to name any women to his Cabinet. LePage has filled seven of the 15 commissioner posts.
In 2010, women held 33 percent of board and commission appointments under Gov. John Baldacci and composed 45 percent of the Democrat’s Cabinet, according to the Maine Women’s Lobby.
“The question now is who will occupy these leadership posts over the next four years. Unfortunately, judging from his first seven appointments, women are less likely to be represented in the new administration,” said Sarah Standiford, executive director of the Maine Women’s Lobby.
Dan Demeritt, LePage’s communications director, said Monday that he appreciated the sentiment of the Maine Women’s Lobby but wouldn’t speculate as to whether any women would fill one or more of the eight remaining commissioner posts.
“It’s not lost on us that we haven’t named any women, but it’s where the applicants have taken us,” said Demeritt, who noted that “some women, but far more men have applied” for the posts.
“We don’t check a box on gender or race or anything like that,” Demeritt said. “We take a look at applicants we’ve received and match them up against the rigors and demands of the particular department.”
Demeritt also said the governor has offered top posts on his staff and as heads of departments to a number of women, but was rebuffed over salary concerns. Demeritt noted that Kathleen Newman is a deputy chief of staff, Mary Mayhew is a senior adviser, and Adrienne Bennett is the press secretary.
In a Monday afternoon interview, Standiford said it was in LePage’s best interest — and that of all Mainers — if the new governor continues to lead the march toward parity between men and women in high-level political posts. Diversity of perspective and experience, she said, improves political decision making.
“It says a lot about equality,” said Standiford, whose group describes itself as “a nonpartisan, nonprofit, membership organization working since 1978 to increase opportunities for women and girls through advocacy and legislative action.”
Asked whether he was concerned about the public message sent if no women were selected, Demeritt said it was more important to find qualified people, regardless of gender.
“I’m concerned about the message if we fail to do our job,” Demeritt said. “It’s more important to do your job well for everyone, rather than judge your team based on gender.”
At the Monday Cabinet meeting, LePage told commissioners that his office wants to be kept in the loop on media releases and he wants departments to work with his policy team on legislative matters.

LePage said he appreciates the willingness of acting Cabinet members to continue in their roles in the early days of his administration. He said keeping essential functions of state government operational is important.The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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