AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage announced Tuesday that he has temporarily withdrawn his nomination of William Beardsley for education commissioner, citing opposition that is growing on the Legislature’s Education Committee.
Beardsley has come under fire in the past for his involvement in a Bangor-area controversy around the late Rev. Robert Carlson and for his views on transgender issues.
“I am temporarily withdrawing Dr. Beardsley’s nomination because Democrats on the Joint Standing Committee on Education are planning to unanimously oppose him solely for partisan political games, without regard to his impeccable qualifications,” said LePage in a news release. “Let me be perfectly clear: I have enormous respect for Dr. Beardsley and I have full confidence in his qualifications.”
Beardsley has already been interviewed by the Maine Board of Education, which voted unanimously in favor of his nomination. The board sent its recommendation letter to LePage’s office, which has refused to make the letter public because they said it involves a personnel issue. The Board of Education also has refused to release the letter, referring inquiries to the governor’s office.
All of the Democrats on the Education Committee and in the Senate voted against Beardsley in 2012, when LePage nominated him to the Maine Board of Education. Beardsley’s nomination was successful anyway.
Republicans still have a majority in the Senate, but a negative recommendation from the committee — where Democrats hold a one-person majority — would complicate Beardsley’s nomination process.
Several Democrats approached by the Bangor Daily News last week about Beardsley declined to comment publicly, and Rep. Victoria Kornfield, D-Bangor, who co-chairs the Education Committee, would not comment other than to release a prepared statement on behalf of the committee.
Carlson died by suicide in 2012 after police began investigating an allegation that he sexually abused a boy in the 1970s. A police report said Beardsley, then president of Husson College, learned about the allegations in 2005, but he denied knowledge of wrongdoing.
House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe of Skowhegan said Beardsley’s history with Carlson is among Democrats’ concerns, along with the transgender issues.
“I know that, especially when it comes to the issue of Rev. Carlson, there were a lot of folks that were very uncomfortable with his handling of that,” said McCabe. “That would come up, I assume, in a confirmation hearing.”
McCabe also said that Beardsley’s views on how schools accommodate transgender students is “something that needs clarity.”
Lois Kilby-Chesley, president of the Maine Education Association, the union that represents most public school teachers, said in a written statement Tuesday that educators throughout Maine have raised concerns about what Beardsley did and didn’t know about Carlson’s alleged crimes.
“According to news stories, Beardsley never reported any knowledge of the abuse to police and that remained a concern of MEA’s membership as Beardsley’s nomination was considered,” Kilby-Chesley said in a prepared statement.
Republican Sen. Brian Langley of Ellsworth, who co-chairs the Education Committee, said last week that he is committed to the notion that everyone on the Education Committee will have their chance to raise concerns when interviewing Beardsley or any other nominees.
“My priority is to ensure that Mr. Beardsley’s qualifications, as they related to effectively running the department and moving Maine’s schools forward, are fully and appropriately vetted by the committee,” said Langley in a written statement on Tuesday. “I hope that we can move forward soon and that politics does not get in the way of ensuring a positive path forward for the Department of Education.”
LePage’s release said the governor would renominate Beardsley “once Democrats put aside their childish and immature political games.”
The conflict centers on LePage’s recent blocking of rules recommended by the Maine Human Rights Commission related to how transgender students should be treated in Maine’s public schools. LePage has said he is waiting for the Legislature to act on the issue before he allows implementation of the rules.
Beardsley, the former president of Husson University, made comments when he was running for governor that some Democrats interpreted to be at odds with transgender rights. Beardsley was scheduled to be interviewed by the Education Committee on Feb. 17.
The Maine Department of Education has operated without a permanent commissioner since April 2015 when Commissioner James Rier retired after a months-long medical leave.
Bangor Daily News writer Michael Shepherd contributed to this report.