Short Relief: Dench the latest casualty in campaign against LePage

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Last week, the Legislature’s Joint Education Committee rejected one of Gov. Paul LePage’s three nominees to the University of Maine System board of trustees, Susan Dench.

Dench is a former marketing professional. She helped found the Informed Women’s Network, a national organization of fiscally responsible women frustrated by the current state of politics. Until recently, Dench wrote a blog for the Bangor Daily News. Her husband is the governor’s re-election campaign treasurer.

The board is the governing and planning body of the university system. It has final authority over all educational, public service and research policies; financial policy, and the relationship between the system and the state and federal governments.

The board is composed of 16 members, 15 of whom are appointed by the governor subject to approval by the Legislature. The Maine commissioner of education is the 16th and ex officio member. The board currently includes business executives and lawyers with experience in wind power, building materials, health care, the paper industry, insurance, marketing and economic development. The board also includes a political science major.

At her confirmation hearing, Dench was criticized for her preference for English-only education, her opposition to government benefits for illegal aliens, her preference for traditional gender roles and her criticism of liberal intolerance. She was even accused of plagiarism, an accusation her editor examined and found unsubstantiated. Dench was unapologetic, and the committee rejected her nomination along party lines.

Dench is the latest of the governor’s appointees to be victimized by partisanship.

The Maine Department of Health and Human Services is the state’s biggest agency. It has a budget of about $3 billion a year and employs about 3,400. Its finances have been a mystery for several administrations. There were repeated budget shortfalls and computer glitches. There was little effort to understand those issues prior to the governor’s appointment of Mary Mayhew as commissioner.

Since then, Mayhew has been vilified as a heartless liar. Her integrity has been questioned with intimations that she is handmaiden to hospitals. Her critics give little credence to the arguments that DHHS was on an unsustainable course, expanding peripheral programs such as care for able-bodied Mainers, while neglecting its core mission to serve the disabled and elderly.

Beginning with his appointment, the opposition cast aspersions on Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen because of his association with the Maine Heritage Policy Center. It greeted every education initiative negatively, from virtual classrooms, to charter schools, to grading schools, to switching from Apple to Dell laptop computers. Similar programs have been in practice elsewhere for years. Some were even started by progressives.

Opponents forced the governor’s first commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection, Darryl Brown, to resign when he did not demonstrate that he made less than 10 percent of his income from clients of his environmental consulting firm who were regulated by DEP. They have been critical of his successor, Patricia Aho, because of her work as a lobbyist prior to government service.

I don’t recall Gov. John Baldacci’s appointees being treated this harshly, or his legitimacy being questioned. Even though, in 2006, he won re-election with only 38 percent of the vote in a four-way race.

An elected official should be given a chance to govern. To put their people in place, and put the plans, principles and policies they campaigned on, and got elected for, to the test. To be evaluated at the next election.

LePage was attacked from the moment he took office. Beginning with his decision to take down from the walls of the Department of Labor a dour mural he felt sent the wrong signal about doing business in Maine. A court eventually held it was within his rights to do so, that he had the right to control the message the government sends under his administration.

LePage was elected on a platform of living within our means, smaller government, lower taxes, reduced regulation, welfare reform and school choice. He has made progress toward many of those goals. Notwithstanding being opposed every step of the way.

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Halsey Frank is a Portland resident, attorney and former chairman of the Republican City Committee.

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