AUGUSTA, Maine — Jonathan McKane, the former state representative whose nomination to serve on the Dirigo Health board of trustees was rejected by a legislative committee last week, withdrew his nomination Tuesday, but not before appearing before the same committee to rebut some of the criticism raised at his confirmation hearing.
McKane, a Republican from Newcastle, appeared again before the Legislature’s Insurance and Financial Services Committee, which voted 8-5 along party lines last week to reject his nomination.
The committee was reconsidering the nomination after Republicans protested that McKane didn’t have the chance to respond to testimony opposing him and the Senate agreed to return his nomination to the insurance panel. Gov. Paul LePage, who nominated McKane and protested last week’s committee vote, plans to keep the Dirigo Health board seat vacant rather than make another selection, said LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett.
In remarks he delivered to the committee, McKane decried what he called a “coordinated attack” from three left-leaning groups that had representatives testify in opposition to his nomination: the Maine People’s Alliance, Maine Education Association and Consumers for Affordable Health Care.
“These are three powerful groups who control much in Maine politics,” he said.
He compared their efforts opposing his nomination to efforts from left-leaning groups opposing Republican state legislative candidates during last year’s campaign season.
“We watched as good people, good legislators, were attacked relentlessly and got painted as hard-core ideologues,” McKane said. “I feel honored to be in the company of those same folks who were attacked so mercilessly.”
Democratic members of the Insurance Committee last week pointed to comments McKane made online and in opinion columns about supporters of the Dirigo program, male and female, whom he and others have called “Dirigirls,” and his description of a series of pro-Dirigo editorials in the Portland Press Herald in 2005 as an “all out jihad against any Dirigo health non-believers.”
Other opponents of his nomination said McKane’s opposition to the Dirigo Health mission and his past comments about Dirigo Health and its supporters should disqualify him.
“I take offense at the implication that I would not be able to work with those with whom I disagreed because I have over the life of my career,” he said.
McKane said his comments, largely on the conservative online message board As Maine Goes, were often made “tongue-in-cheek.” Sometimes, he said, he took the opposite positions to stir the debate.
He warned users of Twitter, Facebook and other social media.
“Choose your words carefully,” McKane said. “They will be front-page news if you’re not careful.”
McKane, who served eight years in the Maine House, has been a longtime opponent of the Dirigo Health program, a signature initiative of former Gov. John Baldacci’s administration. LePage chose him last month for a vacant spot on the program’s board.
The program started in 2003 as an effort to make insurance coverage more affordable for small groups and individuals. Its mission originally was to make low-cost coverage available to all Maine residents by 2009. Today, the program offers coverage through Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, and some of the plan’s participants qualify for subsidies. The plan covered about 16,500 people in November 2011.
The Republican-led Legislature in 2011 phased out the funding mechanism for the program’s subsidies, and the Dirigo Health board is expected to dissolve within a year.