AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine Senate on Thursday confirmed the nomination of William Beardsley to the state Board of Education.
It was a party-line vote, with 18 Republican senators and one unenrolled senator voting in support of Beardsley’s nomination, and 13 Democrats voting in opposition. Three senators were absent.
The Legislature’s Education Committee voted on Tuesday along party lines to recommend Beardsley’s confirmation to the Senate.
At issue was how much Beardsley, the former president of Husson University in Bangor, knew of child sex abuse allegations involving late Husson chaplain the Rev. Robert Carlson, who jumped to his death last year after learning that police were investigating allegations that he had sexually abused an 11-year-old boy in the 1970s.
Beardsley has denied knowing that Carlson had done anything wrong during his time at Husson, despite a state police report that cited a witness who had claimed Husson students had approached Beardsley to make him aware of abuse allegations.
Several senators took the floor to speak out for and against Beardsley’s nomination, led off by Sen. Justin Alfond, a Portland Democrat, who said he could not ignore Beardsley’s connection with the Carlson case.
“As long as a cloud of doubt remains, we cannot turn a blind eye,” said Alfond, who also serves on the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee. “Rubber stamping Beardsley to Maine’s premier educational board would only diminish the stature and confidence this board should bring to our educators, parents and students.”
Other Democratic senators who spoke in opposition to Beardsley’s nomination said they were not condemning the man, but were concerned with the timing and the effect the controversy would have on Beardsley and his effectiveness on the education board if he were to be confirmed. Several other Democrats echoed the cloud analogy used by Alfond.
“I wish this nomination had not come forward at this particular time,” said Sen. Nancy Sullivan, a Democrat from York County. Sullivan said she had great respect for Beardsley, but that as a former classroom teacher, she could not support his nomination.
“I in good conscience and in my faith and my belief of what I did the majority of my life, I cannot vote for this man,” she said. “His resume … is full of good things, but there’s a cloud and that cloud will always be there.”
The Senate’s job is not to judge Beardsley, but to make a decision about whether his confirmation is in the best interest of the Board of Education, said Sen. Seth Goodall, a Democrat from Richmond.
“In my opinion, the cloud that has risen, the cloud that will inevitably hang is too large and will impact the Board of Education, will cast doubt in the policies they enact and actions they take,” he said. “We should oppose this confirmation today because that alone is not in the best interest of the state of Maine and the children of our great state.”
Sen. Cynthia Dill, a Democrat from Cape Elizabeth who is running for U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe’s soon-to-be-vacant senate seat, said she was not condemning Beardsley, but that a “cost-benefit analysis” made it clear to her that “the interests of Maine’s children and students override the continuation of Mr. Beardsley’s wildly successful [public] life.”
But Republicans supported Gov. Paul LePage’s nomination of Beardsley for the post, claiming to penalize the man for hearsay was not fair or right.
Sen. Roger Katz, a Republican from Augusta, urged his fellow senators to support Beardsley, who he said is “being torn down on the basis of double hearsay.”
Speaking in favor of Beardsley’s confirmation, Sen. Dave Hastings, a Republican from Fryeburg, said senators should not “besmirch his reputation for character, integrity and honesty based on these innuendos and newspaper accounts.”
After the vote, LePage issued a statement condemning the Democrats for their opposition and reiterating his support for Beardsley.
“Today’s demonstration by Democrats to vote against Bill Beardsley’s nomination is a new all-time low even for them,” LePage said. “Bill’s experience and life-long career in education is impeccable, and for Democrats and the newspapers to unjustly drag his name into the mud is a disgrace. Democrats clearly do not understand the facts as they relate to the Carlson case and their lack of conscience in trying to sully Bill’s reputation is appalling.”
LePage said he has “the utmost confidence” in Beardsley’s “abilities to continue to contribute greatly to the field of education in the future.”