PORTLAND, Maine — John “Jock” McKernan, former Republican Maine governor and husband to longtime U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, has been named president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, a nonprofit research and advocacy arm of the larger Chamber organization.
McKernan will also serve as senior adviser to Thomas Donohue, president and CEO of the Chamber, which represents 3 million member businesses and companies across America. The former governor will assume his new roles starting Oct. 2.
In a Thursday interview about the new job with the online publication Politico, McKernan said he hopes the business community can be a catalyst for overcoming partisan gridlock in Washington, D.C.
His wife, Snowe, surprised the political world in 2012 by announcing she would not seek reelection to the U.S. Senate after more than three decades in elected office. She said frustration over hyper-partisanship in Congress drove her to that decision. This year, she released a new book, “Fighting for Common Ground: How we can fix the stalemate in Congress.”
“I come from a state that has always been fairly centrist,” McKernan told Politico. “When it comes to jobs and economic growth and competitiveness and education and training, those are issues that people ought to be able to come together on.
“The business community hopefully can be part of breaking the logjam,” he continued. “I’m looking forward to being a part of weighing in on these issues and seeing [if] we can’t highlight where the two sides can come together to get this economy moving again.”
McKernan served two terms in the U.S. House from 1983 to 1987, then won consecutive terms in the Blaine House in 1987 and 1991. According to a Thursday announcement by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, McKernan served as chairman of the Education Commission of the States and the National Education Goals Panel during his political career. He is also author of the book, “Making the Grade,” on the merits of youth apprenticeship.
“Jock has dedicated his entire life to strengthening America’s economy, enhancing our global competitiveness, promoting innovation, and improving education and workforce training,” said Chamber President Donohue in a statement. “He’s successfully pursued these goals as a governor, congressman and CEO. He possesses the perfect mix of public and private sector experiences to ensure that the U.S. Chamber Foundation will accomplish its mission of informing the national debate on key issues.”
McKernan’s record has faced scrutiny in recent years, however, as a for-profit education company he chaired from 2003 to 2007 was sued over alleged illegal student recruitment practices.
The U.S. Justice Department claimed that Education Management Corp. paid domestic recruiters based on the numbers of students they convinced to attend company colleges and universities, a practice which is not legal in this country. The company has denied the allegations, and McKernan, once named individually in the lawsuit, has since been dropped as a defendant from the court proceedings.