CEO of conservative think tank co-chairs LePage team

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AUGUSTA — Backed by a Republican majority in both chambers of the Legislature, Gov.-elect Paul LePage on Friday announced the co-chairs of his transition team and promised to make his administration the most transparent in state history.

LePage, elected with 39 percent of the vote in Tuesday’s election, said voters had sent “a clear message” that state government was ready for overhaul.

Meanwhile, the Republican Senate elected its leadership in its first caucus since grabbing a 20-seat majority on Election Day.

LePage’s transition team will include Tarren Bragdon, chief operating officer of the conservative think tank Maine Heritage Policy Center; Ann Robinson, an Augusta attorney for Preti Flaherty and counsel for the Maine Republican Party; and John Butera, executive director of the Central Maine Growth Council.

Bragdon’s selection could add to previous claims by Democrats that the Maine Heritage Policy Center, which is based in Portland and has links to a national network of research centers funded by large corporations, has tilted its research to favor Republican candidates.

The nonprofit center’s 501(c)3 status prohibits it from endorsing candidates, but Democrats have alleged that Bragdon’s group takes advantage of an ambiguous Internal Revenue Service tax code.

Bragdon contends that his group will work with any party or candidate that will promote its ideology.

As a member of LePage’s transition team, Bragdon will work on fiscal and health-care policies. Bragdon has written several policy papers on the issue.

He co-authored an op-ed piece in The Wall Street Journal warning about the perils of the national health care bill and wrote a health-care policy analysis for the Empire Center, a Manhattan Institute offshoot that includes Bill Kristol and other conservative icons on its board of directors.

During his campaign, LePage said he would work to repeal the national health care law.

Bragdon told reporters Friday that he would work on the transition team until Christmas and then return to the policy center. When asked why he wouldn’t remain in LePage’s Cabinet, Bragdon said it was important that the center continue advancing free-market principles through its research.

“I really enjoy the role at the Maine Heritage Policy Center,” he said. “I’ve declared to the governor-elect and to my own board that this is just a two-month leave and I’ll go back. It might surprise some people, but there are a lot of people that really value our work.”

“We’re obviously not going to stop providing the research advocating for the free-market principles,” he said.

LePage also named his campaign chief of staff, John Morris, as transition director. Morris previously served as chief of police in Waterville. He is a retired U.S. Navy captain who commanded a naval warship and was commander of a Navy base in South Korea.

And, Brent Littlefield was named LePage’s senior political adviser. Littlefield served as the LePage campaign’s strategic consultant for messaging, planning and media for the primary and general election. For more than two decades, he has worked with Maine campaigns and office holders and is a former member of the Maine Republican State Committee.

In addition to announcing his transition leaders, LePage unveiled a new website, lepagetransition.com, that will track costs associated with his administration’s move to the Blaine House.

LePage said the transition team will look for “the best and the brightest” for his administration. He hopes to name most of his Cabinet appointments by Christmas.

Meanwhile, the new Republican majority on Friday unanimously elected Sen. Kevin Raye of Perry as Senate president.

Sen. Jon Courtney, R-Sanford, was elected majority leader; Sen. Debra Plowman, R-Hampden, was elected assistant majority leader.

After the voting, Raye promised to “extend the hand of bipartisanship” to Democrats in the upcoming session.

“We know what it’s like to be in the minority,” he said.

The election of LePage and the Republican majority marks the first time since 1964 that the GOP will have control of both chambers and the executive branch.

Incoming senators are expected to be sworn in Dec. 1, at which time the Legislature will also select constitutional officers: the state treasurer, attorney general and secretary of state.

Several candidates have emerged for those positions.

Bruce Poliquin, a Republican gubernatorial candidate, is seeking the treasurer position. LePage endorsed his candidacy on Friday.

LePage said he didn’t want to get involved in the other races.

According to Sen. Peter Mills, R-Skowhegan, Charlie Summers, vice chairman of the Maine Republican Party and former congressional candidate in the 1st District, is expected to seek the secretary of state position.

Mills said he’s backing William Schneider, an assistant U.S. attorney, for the attorney general spot.

Mills said Sen. Doug Smith, a Republican from Piscataquis County, is also angling for attorney general

John McGough, LePage’s chief of staff, confirmed that Snyder and Smith had emerged as AG candidates.

Maine is one of seven states in which the Legislature elects the attorney general.

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