AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage wanted to hire the winner of the 2011 Miss Maine USA pageant to promote career and technical education, an idea the state’s education commissioner firmly rejected, according to emails requested by a central Maine newspaper.
“All of a sudden, we are supposed to hire some beauty queen with, from what I can tell, no CTE knowledge or background, and bring her on board to fill a position we don’t have and have never had,” education chief Stephen Bowen wrote on Dec. 17, 2011, after the subject was broached by one of LePage’s advisers.
“Well, I can’t let that happen,” Bowen wrote in the emails, first reported by the Kennebec Journal. “I’m not going to be the one sitting in front of Appropriations defending hiring Miss Maine while we cut subsidy to schools and fend off complaints that we have always seem to have money squirreled away somewhere when we need it.”
LePage “was keen on getting her out in the schools ASAP” after he had lunch with Ashley Marble on Dec. 16, 2011, according to an email sent to Bowen by Jonathan Nass, senior policy adviser the governor, and wanted her to “promote cultural change to make CTE cool.”
“Of course, I have no idea if you have any openings. Maybe there is a frozen position we can ‘thaw’?” Nass wrote, signing off his email with “Never dull…”
The education commissioner’s response the next morning was decisive: “No way is she going to work for or be paid for by DOE on my watch. Sorry to be blunt about it, but that is where I am.”
“You guys know I’m a team player and I’m working 80 hours a week to get an constantly shifting education agenda put together,” Bowen wrote later. “No way I’m doing this, though. Absolutely no way.”
Bowen said the governor’s office was free to hire her, or to convince an outside company to hire her, but that he could not face his employees and school departments “and justify hiring her, even if it is for $30,000. That we would even think of doing this while confronting a $220M shortfall seems nuts to me anyway.”
Nass’ original email stated the governor already had offered her the job, but Marble told the Kennebec Journal that she had “casual discussion about a potential position that might help kids and students in Maine” but that the governor’s office never followed up.
The commissioner backtracked from the earlier emails, according to a statement sent to the BDN on Saturday morning by a spokesperson for LePage.
“My email was written before I had a full understanding of the qualifications and character of this incredible young Maine leader. It was uninformed and inappropriate and I extend my deepest apologies to Ms. Marble,” the statement, attributed to Bowen, says.
The commissioner and the department will not comment further on this, LePage spokesman Peter Steele said in the Saturday morning email.
Steele also sent a statement on behalf of the governor’s office. “Miss Marble was an academic and athletic all-American at the University of Southern Maine,” it said.
“She would serve as an outstanding spokeswoman for any number of causes, including career and technical education. Her story overcoming challenges in order to succeed is an inspiration for all Mainers, speaking to the strength of her character.”
“Beyond that, this is a personnel matter and we will not comment further,” the statement said.
Marble, originally from Woodland, was a basketball standout in high school and while at USM. She originally attended the University of Maine on a volleyball scholarship, but left the squad to focus on her studies. She later transferred to USM.
Marble originally was the first runner-up in the 2011 Miss Maine pageant. She was promoted to Miss Maine after the winner opted to attend her sister’s wedding rather than go to the Miss USA pageant. Marble went on to make it to the final eight in the nationwide pageant.
LePage also faced criticism from opponents in 2010 after he hired his daughter, Lauren, as an administrative assistant earning $41,000 a year.