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From spying to saving Fenway: Fact-checking the GOP candidates for Maine governor

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From spying to saving Fenway: Fact-checking the GOP candidates for Maine governor

Editor’s note: First of a two-part series by the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting examining the campaign resumes of the candidates for governor. Next week: the Democrats.

One candidate says the Navy gave him a medal for spying on the Soviets.

Another tells a Dickensian tale of leaving home at age 11 and living on the streets of Lewiston before being taken in by a family.

Those are among some of the grander claims made by the seven candidates in the Republican primary on June 8.

The Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting has checked documents, scoured the Internet and conducted interviews to try to determine which claims are true, which are false and which are exaggerated.

While much of a typical campaign focuses on candidates’ stands on issues and their promises of what they will do if elected, research shows voters care as much or even more about the truthfulness of their statements, including their resumes.

In a 2007 Associated Press-Ipsos poll about the presidential race, 55 percent said honesty and integrity were more important than a candidate’s policy positions.

The center’s research showed that in most cases the candidates’ resumes were factual, but there were also times when they applied "spin" and interpreted their pasts in the best possible light.

But research could detect no spin in the examples above.

The National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis confirmed in writing that state Sen. Peter Mills, R-Cornville, received a Naval Commendation Medal, among others, when he served as a lieutenant commander in the Navy, although it doesn’t specify it was for intelligence work against the Soviets.

The David Copperfield-style tale belongs to Republican Paul LePage, the mayor of Waterville, and it was confirmed by the Lewiston family who took him in.

Here is a summary of the center’s findings:

Steve Abbott

The longest paragraph on Steve Abbott’s resume is about football. According to Mike Archer, the athletic director at Orono High School, Abbott is “the only athlete in the history of Orono High School to win state championships in the three major sports of football (4), basketball (1), and baseball (1)." Former classmate Matt Clark confirmed that the Orono football team never lost a game during the four years Abbott was on the squad.

After high school, Abbott continued his football career at Harvard, where he was the team captain. The Harvard Crimson reported that his captaincy came as a surprise to his teammates because he “had seen only minimal playing time his sophomore year and because a year ago he was only a second stringer on a team that rarely used a first string tight end.” Teammates credited his selection to being “a model of class” for his hard work and drive.

Full of details about his football career, Abbott’s resume is thin on his time at the Pierce Atwood law firm and as chief of staff for U.S. Sen. Susan Collins. He summarizes his 12 years working for Collins in one sentence: “While supervising a congressional staff and managing teams in Washington and Maine, Steve has helped thousands of Maine businesses and people.”

Abbott supervised 50 people on Collins’ senatorial staff and another 28 to 30 on her Homeland Security Committee, according to the senator’s office. Typically, a senator’s staff responds daily to scores of request from constituents, so Abbott’s claim is likely factual, given his 12 years of service, but it could also be said by most if not all congressional chiefs of staffs.

Abbott’s resume also states he ran Collin’s successful senatorial campaigns in 2002 and 2008. That’s certainly factual: with Abbott as her campaign manager, Collins won by margins of 85,000 and 160,000 votes, respectively, the latter against well-known U.S. Rep. Tom Allen.

William Beardsley

Best known as the president of Husson College in Bangor for the past 22 years, William Beardsley claims he “successfully oversaw the transformation of a struggling business and nursing college into a vibrant and dynamic university with three times the enrollment, more than fifty degree offerings and a pharmacy school.”

The growth he cites was confirmed (the enrollment went from 1,081 in the fall of 1986 to the current 2,800 – close to “three times”).

The Bangor Daily News recently reported, “When Beardsley took over what in 1987 was a business college with a nursing school, it was $11.5 million in debt. A local bank headed by a Husson graduate had cut off the college’s line of credit, and federal regulators had threatened to start selling off the college’s assets if it didn’t quickly catch up on its deferred debt.”

The center also confirmed Beardsley’s extensive community and academic credentials, from being immediate past chairman of the Maine Development Foundation to being an aide to the governor of Vermont in the early 1970s.

Unusual among the candidates, Beardsley’s campaign resume makes no claims of being the best or the most or the first, other than his statements about his success at Husson.

Matt Jacobson

Since 2006, Matt Jacobson has been president and chief executive officer of Maine & Company, a non-profit company charged with wooing businesses to the state.

His campaign web site states: “Under Matt's leadership since 2006, Maine & Company has recruited several major companies to Maine including NotifyMD, athenahealth and Boston Financial Data Services. These companies will combine to hire over 1,500 new employees.”

The key word there is “will.” Public announcements by the three companies named and others referred to but not identified, do add up to plans to hire about 1,500.

How are they doing so far?

Of the three named companies, which accounted for 900 of the projected 1,500 jobs, the count can only be partially determined because one of three firms will not release employment data.

Currently, 260 of a projected 600 people are employed at athenahealth, according to Human Resources Manager Natalie Brown. Sharon Cullenberg, vice president of Maine operations for NotifyMD, said 55 people of a projected 200 work for the company’s Farmington office. Boston Financial Services would not disclose employment numbers.

Jacobson’s website advertises his connection to Madison tomato growers Backyard Farms. “This New York Times article features a company that Matt Jacobson recruited to Maine, Backyard Farms of Madison. Real, Private-Sector Jobs!” reads the caption. But according to Madison Town Manager Norman Dean, the company had already decided to locate in Madison by 2005, and Jacobson did not join Maine & Company until 2006. When asked if Maine & Company had been involved in recruiting Backyard Farms to the town, he replied that he “wasn’t sure they were actively involved in this deal.”

Ken Young, executive director of the Kennebec Valley Council of Governments, didn’t remember, either. Both men listed inexpensive power from the town-owned utility company, Madison Electric Works, as one of the most important reasons Backyard Farms chose to locate there.

Backyard Farms officials declined to speak on the record about Jacobson’s involvement with the company.

Jacobson replied he did “some data on the workforce” for the project shortly before the groundbreaking, but that the town manager might not have been aware of that, and some additional assistance after the opening.

“I wouldn’t want to claim we were the instigator, but we certainly had something to do with it,” he said.

Before joining Maine & Company, Jacobson worked at Canadian National Railways in Chicago. The company confirmed Jacobson’s dates of employment, 2000-2005, but would not provide any additional information about achievements while at the railway. Previously, Jacobson worked as president and chief operating officer for St. Lawrence & Atlantic Railroad in Auburn.

Ed Foley, general manager for the railroad, confirmed both Jacobson’s position and that the company “tripled its revenue, increasing corporate earnings by 65 percent,” as stated in Jacobson’s biography. While Jacobson was working at St. Lawrence & Atlantic, the railroad was awarded North Americas’ Best Shortline Railroad by Railway Age Magazine.

Military records confirm that Jacobson graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1984 and served as a pilot in the Air Force until 1991, and received multiple awards, including the Air Force Commendation Medal and the Air Force Achievement Medal. In 1991 he left active duty and joined the Air Force reserve. After leaving the military, Jacobson graduated with an MBA from Chapman University in California.

Paul LePage

As a young boy, Paul LePage’s bio says he was abandoned by his family and taken in by two families in Lewiston. Bruce Myrick, from one of his “adopted” families, recalls dropping LePage off at home after a day spent helping him deliver Pepsi, only to see LePage running out of the apartment and back towards his car. The apartment was empty; his family was gone. Myrick took LePage home with him. He confirmed that LePage supported himself by working at Theriault’s Café and later at Antoine Rubber Co.

LePage claims that U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe’s first husband, Peter, convinced Husson College to let him take the SAT in French due to his poor English skills. The test’s administrator, the College Board, says the SAT cannot be translated into another language. However according to John Richter, Snowe’s chief of staff, Peter Snowe and LePage were close, and “it wouldn’t surprise her if Peter had done that.” Husson would not confirm the claim.

As mayor of Waterville since 2004, LePage says “he set himself a goal of reducing taxes every year of his tenure and succeeded.” Democratic City Councilor Mary-Anne Beal confirmed that LePage has cut taxes every year by scrupulously going through the city budget. According to Bert Languet, who serves on the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce, LePage increased Waterville’s rainy day fund from $1 million to $10 million.

LePage was voted the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce’s businessman of the year in 2006 and the National Federation of Independent Business’ Maine Business Champion in 2007.

His 10-plus year tenure as general manager of Marden’s discount stores is well-documented in press accounts. LePage’s claim that Marden’s is “Maine’s best known retail institution” might be challenged by L.L. Bean.

“There is no one in politics, government or academia,” LePage states, “who has a broader or deeper practical knowledge of what makes Maine work.”

LePage’s record does show extensive experience with how one central Maine city works, having served two terms on Waterville’s city council and now in his third term as mayor. Except for being on the Kennebec County budget committee, though, LePage cites no other government experience outside of Waterville, population 16,000.

Peter Mills

Peter Mills’ online resume is the most detailed of all the candidates, ranging from the whimsical (he claims to be the only senator who can do a headdstand) to the wonkish – doing more than anyone currently in public service to restrain state debt.

Judy DelFranco, a senate employee, confirmed Mills has executed a headstand in the Senate chambers – and no other senator did. Whether any fellow senators could have, but chose not to, could not be determined.

Mill’s professional credentials and public service were confirmed, from his long legislative service to currently serving on the board of the Coalition for Excellence in Education and the Maine Children’s Growth Council and being a founding member of the Somerset County Economic Development Corp.

He also claims, “No one presently in public service has done more to restrain public debt than I have. In the 1990’s, I fought relentlessly against Democrats’ efforts to expand the Government Facilities Authority and other mechanisms used to borrow money without public approval.”

Mills supports that by citing examples such as forcing a compromise on the sale of the state liquor business and being the leading voice in the Legislature about the financial dangers of the state pension liabilities, which are confirmed by press reports and interviews.

No doubt, Mills is a leading force on debt restraint, but whether “no one” has done more than he has is the sort of campaign boast that can neither be proved nor disproved.

Les Otten

Les Otten’s claim of business success in the ski industry was detailed in a previous center story, which found that while he started American Skiing Co., the company eventually failed.

Otten has a claim just as grand – perhaps grander here in New England – than spying for the Navy: He saved Fenway Park.

His online bio states: “Les put together an ownership group to buy the Boston Red Sox and served as vice chairman and partner in the franchise from 2002 to 2007 when they won the World Series twice. Les spearheaded the effort to save Fenway Park ...”

Press reports from Boston newspapers confirm Otten was a key player in forming the ownership group, which put together the plan to keep the Sox in Fenway. Coverage at the time divided the major credit between Otten and Sox Chairman Tom Werner.

Otten claims a long list of community activities, from co-founding the Western Mountains Alliance to co-founding Maine Handicapped Skiing and many others. All checked out as accurate.

Bruce Poliquin

The center confirmed Bruce Poliquin's graduation from Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., and Harvard College, but was not able to determine if he, as he has stated, washed faculty windows to buy his textbooks.

A story in a financial magazine confirms that Poliquin was a principal in Avatar Investors Associates Corp., but could not find data regarding the $5 billion in pension funds Poliquin says the company managed.

He has called his Popham Woods development “environmentally sensitive.” About 130 of 183 acres have been conserved; 69 condominiums and single-family homes have or will be built there, according to the project’s website.

His campaign bio also states: “I have started, invested in, and managed a number of businesses that have provided hundreds of jobs for Maine workers.”

After initially agreeing to supply the center with corroborating material, on a second call, a Poliquin staff member said the campaign would not respond to the center’s questions, citing objections to its previous stories on the gubernatorial campaign.

The list of Poliquin’s community activities, such as being on the board of the Natural Resources Council of Maine, were all confirmed without his staff’s assistance.

Emily Guerin, of Harpswell, and Nathaniel Herz, of Hallowell, are contributing writers for the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting. John Christie is the publisher and senior reporter. The Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting is a nonpartisan, nonprofit journalism organization based in Hallowell. The center’s email is mainecenter@gmail.com. The website is pinetreewatchdog.org.