August 20, 2019
The Point Latest News | Salmon Farming | Bangor Metro | Janet Mills | Today's Paper

Legislative watchdogs cast wide net for LePage investigation

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta (left) and Rep. Chuck Kruger, D-Thomaston, co-chairs of the Government Oversight Committee, listen to public comments on the Good Will-Hinkley and Mark Eves controversy in Augusta on Oct. 15.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Political eyes will be on the Legislature’s watchdog committee on Thursday, when an inquiry into Gov. Paul LePage’s role in forcing House Speaker Mark Eves out of a job at Good Will-Hinckley will continue.

The Fairfield charitable group hired Eves, a Democrat from North Berwick, as its president in June, but that offer was pulled after LePage, a Republican, threatened to remove discretionary funding for the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences, a charter school run by the group.

It’ll be a full slate in front of the Government Oversight Committee, with nine people with central and supporting roles in the controversy scheduled to testify. Many have already been mentioned in the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability’s initial investigation of the situation, which LePage has called a “witch hunt.”

Here’s our guide to who the nine are and why their words on Thursday will matter, from the OPEGA review and other published reports.

Cynthia Montgomery and Aaron Chadbourne

Who are they? Montgomery is LePage’s chief attorney, best known for her failed legal argument that the governor’s interpretation of legislative adjournment gave him more time to act on legislation sent to him. The Maine Supreme Judicial Court unanimously rejected that argument, allowing 65 bills that LePage intended to veto to become law earlier this year.

Chadbourne is the governor’s education adviser and a Harvard-trained lawyer who caused a minor controversy in 2008 after trying to name an award after himself.

Why are they testifying? Both were subpoenaed by the committee after refusing invitations to testify voluntarily.

Montgomery told Eves’ lawyer that LePage wouldn’t withdraw the threat two days before it was reported by the Bangor Daily News in June.

Chadbourne had a meeting with a Good Will-Hinckley lobbyist on June 5 in which he asked if Eves had been hired as president. He told her that LePage thought the speaker wasn’t qualified because of a lack of background in education and opposition to charter schools.

Funding wasn’t mentioned explicitly then, but later Good Will-Hinckley board Chairman Jack Moore reported a conversation with Chadbourne in which Chadbourne reportedly said the administration “would have trouble supporting” the school if Eves was hired.

Tom Desjardin

Who is he? The acting education commissioner for LePage at the time of Eves’ firing. He’s now deputy commissioner.

Why is he testifying? Desjardin first raised concerns about the prospects of Eves’ hiring during a lunch meeting with Moore in May. He communicated LePage’s concerns to officials and after Eves’ hiring was announced, he ordered a department official to reverse a payment to the school, although the review says it’s “unclear” whether Desjardin did that as a directive from LePage or on his own.

Suzan Beaudoin

Who is she? The education department’s director of school finance and operations.

Why is she testifying? She executed Desjardin’s order to reverse the payment.

Rich Abramson

Who is he? Good Will-Hinckley’s former interim president.

Why is he testifying? The former superintendent met with LePage in March about implementing a program for new loggers and worked with his office on other issues.

But after the governor learned of Eves’ hiring on June 5, he called Abramson directly, telling him that he was upset at the hiring, that the school was important to him and that they had “lost his support.” The possibility of losing funding wasn’t mentioned then, but it was raised by Desjardin in a call to Moore later that day.

Bill Brown

Who is he? Eves’ chief budget adviser and chairman of the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences’ board.

Why is he testifying? Brown recused himself from Eves’ interview and a meeting about the school’s funding, but he has been criticized for his dual role as Eves’ employee and the school’s board chairman. In a letter, LePage said it constituted “unabashed political patronage.”

Sara Vanderwood and Jay Nutting

Who are they? Verrill Dana lobbyists who have done work for Good Will-Hinckley. Vanderwood is their chief lobbyist; Nutting is a Good Will-Hinckley board member.

Why are they testifying? Vanderwood was the lobbyist that Chadbourne contacted on June 5 and was one of the key go-betweens for the school with the administration. Nutting broke the news of the funding threat to Eves’ chief of staff.

Gregory Powell

Who is he? Chairman of the Harold Alfond Foundation’s board.

Why is he testifying? The prospective loss of state funding to the charter school led the private foundation to reconsider millions of dollars in grant funding.

 



Have feedback? Want to know more? Send us ideas for follow-up stories.

You may also like