AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage shuffled in another acting commissioner of the Maine Department of Education on Monday — a procedural move that lets him leave the de facto chief in place while continuing to avoid a confirmation hearing.
The Republican governor gave Robert Hasson, the department’s director of certification, the job of acting commissioner, LePage’s office said in a Monday news release. It also said Hasson will manage the department’s day-to-day operations with Deputy Commissioner William Beardsley.
But Beardsley, a former Husson University president who ran against LePage for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in 2010 and later served as conservation commissioner, has been the education department’s de facto head since October 2015, when he was named acting commissioner.
LePage nominated him for the permanent commissioner job in early 2016 but pulled his nomination in February, citing opposition from Democrats to Beardsley’s nomination, which requires a confirmation hearing and recommendation from the Legislature’s Education Committee and approval by the Maine Senate.
The procedural move announced Monday exploits a loophole in Maine law that allows acting commissioners to have all the powers of confirmed commissioners but only lets them serve for six months without being re-appointed. Monday’s move shuffled Acting Commissioner Debra Plowman out of the position she took in May.
Democrats have criticized LePage’s moves as an end run around the nominating process. In July, the Maine School Superintendents Association called for a nomination, but LePage rebuffed it and said Beardsley would run it from the deputy post.
It’s unclear whether Beardsley’s nomination would have been scuttled by the Republican-led Maine Senate, but Democrats were making noise about two incidents in Beardsley’s past.
The first involved a scandal surrounding the Rev. Robert Carlson, who died by suicide in 2012 amid a police investigation into allegations that he sexually abused boys. A Maine State Police report said Beardsley was approached with allegations against Carlson — then Husson’s chaplain — and took them to Carlson, who resigned. He has denied knowledge of any wrongdoing.
The other was during the gubernatorial campaign in 2010, when Beardsley addressed transgender students in a radio debate with LePage, saying there are “decisions being made for them that are outside what we call our normal activities here in the state.”
However, Rep. Brian Hubbell, D-Bar Harbor, an education committee member, said in a Monday email that he has worked with Hasson for years and respects him.
“I take this appointment to be a positive sign and hope this indicates a stabilizing of the leadership team at the department,” Hubbell said.