Gov. Paul LePage nominated Farnham, a Republican who represented Bangor and Hermon in the state Senate before she lost a highly publicized and expensive re-election bid to Democrat Geoff Gratwick last year. More than $450,000 in outside money poured into the race, making it the most expensive Maine Senate campaign in history.
Farnham answered questions from the committee for approximately 30 minutes Wednesday, with some veering away from education and into topics such as her passion for running and her upcoming appearance at a dancing fundraiser. In addressing the committee, Farnham described herself as the daughter of a longtime educator. She talked about how her experience in the military, on the Bangor School Committee, as a city councilor and as a legislator have colored her approach to education funding and policy, but she said her “most important perspective is that of a parent.”
Farnham listed “finding the right fit for each student,” “making sure we have the right funding” and having “the proper type of regulation in place, so local people can make decisions” as the three most pressing public education issues in Maine.
When committee member Rep. Tori Kornfield, D-Bangor, asked Farnham about her vote against charter school legislation during the previous Legislature, Farnham said she now would take the lead from legislators and other Board of Education members as the process of implementing the law proceeds.
Farnham’s unanimous recommendation comes a day after seven Democrats and one independent on the Insurance and Financial Services Committee voted against LePage’s nomination of another former Republican legislator, Jon McKane of Newcastle, to the Dirigo Health board.
Farnham’s nomination now goes to the full Senate for a confirmation vote. If approved, as is likely, she would succeed James Banks of Portland, serving a five-year term on the nine-member State Board of Education. She would join William Beardsley, who served as LePage’s conservation commissioner until this past summer, on the education board. LePage nominated Beardsley for the post in August 2012.
The State Board of Education acts in an advisory capacity to the education commissioner and makes policy recommendations to the Legislature. The board also approves school construction projects and sets standards for teacher certification.