AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage announced Wednesday he is nominating a former Republican gubernatorial candidate and a member of a prominent northern Maine logging family to head the state’s wildlife and labor departments, respectively.
Chandler Woodcock, 61, of Farmington is the governor’s selection as commissioner of the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. Cheryl Russell, 52, of Chester is his choice to lead the Department of Labor.
Woodcock is a former Republican state senator who ran for governor in 2006 but lost to Democratic incumbent John Baldacci. He was an English teacher for 27 years and is now executive director of the Maine Harness Horsemen’s Association.
Woodcock described himself as a lifelong sportsman whose priorities include restoring the thinning deer herd by focusing on protection of “deer yards” where they shelter during winter. Woodcock said his other priorities would be habitat protection and preservation of Maine’s Eastern brook trout rivers and streams, which have been described as the last stronghold in the U.S. for the species.
If confirmed, he would replace Roland “Danny” Martin, who stepped down in January after eight years on the job.
Russell is the owner and president of Competitive Edge Consulting LLC, based in Lincoln. She at one time was executive director of the Richard E. Dyke Center for Family Business at Husson University and executive director of the American Loggers Council. She also worked for years as business manager for her family’s forest management and logging business, Hanington Bros. Inc., and was past executive director of Professional Logging Contractors of Maine.
The logging industry is a frequent flashpoint for labor issues in Maine, especially when it comes to firms that hire Canadian workers. But one advocate for stronger enforcement of the state’s labor laws regarding foreign or “bonded” workers said Wednesday he is unsure about how he feels about Russell’s nomination.
“At one time, she represented an organization that had a large amount of their membership that used bonded workers,” said Sen. Troy Jackson, an Allagash Democrat who is himself a logger. “We met with her today, and she said her job is to put Maine people to work.”
Asked about her stance on the use of Canadian loggers in the Maine woods, Russell said: “There is a reality that we have 25,000 Maine people looking for work, and I think it will be important to put Mainers to work first,” Russell said.
But Jackson said he is unclear about how strongly LePage — who will presumably dictate policies at the Department of Labor — feels about cracking down on companies that violate the bonded labor laws. So while Jackson said he is encouraged that Russell has deep roots in the logging community, he remains uneasy about the administration’s attitude toward bonded laborers.
If confirmed, Russell would replace Laura Fortman, who held the post for eight years before stepping down last month.
Woodcock and Russell have to go through legislative committee reviews and Senate confirmation for approval.
The head of Maine’s largest sportsmen’s group said he is pleased with Woodcock’s nomination. Matthew Dunlap, executor director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, said Woodcock served on the Legislature’s wildlife committee, is a sportsman and proven leader.
“He knows the issue, and that’s critically important,” Dunlap said.
LePage had planned to announce his nominee to head the Department of Education on Wednesday. However, the governor was forced to delay that announcement in order to give the state Board of Education time to interview the nominee and issue a recommendation to the governor, as required by statute.
The announcement is not expected until later this week or next week.
One name frequently mentioned in recent weeks as possible education commissioner is Stephen Bowen, who focuses on education issues for the Maine Heritage Policy Center and is currently education adviser to the LePage administration.
Several people attending a legislative breakfast on education issues Wednesday morning said Bowen told the group that he is being considered for the Department of Education post.