AUGUSTA — Gov.-elect Paul LePage announced Tuesday the addition of 35 advisers representing what he described as a wide cross-section of political and business interests to help review applications for administration positions and department heads.
But within hours of the announcement at the State House Hall of Flags, one team member, Pete Harring, leader of the tea party group Maine Refounders, drew criticism from an organization that called Harring an "extremist" for comments he posted on his website.
The team also includes additional links between LePage's transition team and individuals with connections to the Maine Heritage Policy Center, the Portland-based conservative think tank with ties to a national network of free-market, nonprofits reportedly funded by large corporate donors working to fight climate science and loosen business regulations.
On Tuesday, Harring's comments against liberal Democrats and U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, generated the most controversy.
In September, Harring, who goes by the name "Pete the Carpenter" on his website, responded to a Roll Call story in which Snowe urged for an inclusive Republican party amid the tea party's sacking of moderates during this year's GOP primaries.
Harring dismissed Snowe's call for a so-called "big tent" GOP, calling the senator "clueless."
Wrote Harring, "(Snowe) obviously lives in some fantasy world and has no grasp of reality or she is under some drug-induced coma and is suffering from severe hallucinations."
Harring also compared liberal Democrats to Slinkys, children's toys that Harring called "good for nothing."
"But they still bring a smile to your face when you push them down a flight of stairs," he added.
Mike Tipping, of the Maine People's Alliance, urged LePage to immediately dismiss Harring. Tipping said it was indefensible to "put this kind of extremist into a position of power."
"LePage won the election, he's allowed to pick people that agree with him to run his administration," Tipping said in a written statement, "but to pick someone who's only qualification is his anger and his tea party connections is just unacceptable."
The biography provided by LePage's camp describes Harring as a carpenter and founder of a website "dedicated to getting people involved in the political process."
In a statement provided by LePage's camp, Harring wrote, "People are angry and frustrated. I am a carpenter working hard to get people involved. My blog posts and speeches come from my heart and are not meant to offend anyone. If they make people think, I am doing my job."
Dan Demeritt, LePage's press secretary, added, "(Harring) is on the Transition Advisory Team because thousands of Mainers share his frustrations with the direction we have been heading. Gov.-elect LePage does not always agree with everything Pete has to say, but he believes Pete has a viewpoint that should be heard."
Other members of LePage's advisory committee include Richard Bennett, a former six-term legislator of Oxford and currently Maine's committeeman for the Republican National Committee; Jinger Duryea, the president of C.N. Brown Co., a local oil company; and Peter Geiger, editor of the Farmer's Almanac and the vice president of Lewiston-based Geiger, a marketing company.
"While no sampling will fully represent the whole, the team joining me today is a very good representation of Maine and its people," LePage said. "Maine is carpenters, doctors, lawyers, public servants, educators, foresters ... And so is my team."
According to campaign finance reports, 16 of the 35 people added to LePage's team gave the governor-elect campaign money prior to the election.
The team also includes individuals — including Bennett and Duryea — with connections to the Maine Heritage Policy Center.
Duryea, who was once the chairwoman for the Maine Oil Dealers Association, is listed as a member of MHPC's board of directors.
Although Bennett isn't listed on the center's website, his Maine Republican Party biography states he serves as a board director for MHPC. He also has ties to Tarren Bragdon, the CEO of the policy center and co-chairman of LePage's primary transition team.
Between 2001 and 2002, Bragdon served as Bennett's special assistant when Bennett was president of the state Senate.
Mary Adams, another LePage team member, was one of three plaintiffs in the policy center's lawsuit this year against the Maine Municipal Association, in which it alleged that the MMA used taxpayer money to influence elections.
According to several published reports, Adams was also the lead petition gatherer during the 2006 Taxpayer Bill of Rights referendum, an initiative supported by the policy center.
Another team member, Dawn Stiles, is the president of Spurwink Services in Scarborough, a social services provider.
Stiles worked with Bragdon between 2009-10 when the policy center's CEO served on Spurwink's board of directors. Stiles also served as a deputy director for the Bureau of Child and Family Services at the state Department of Health and Human Services.
LePage's team also includes Alan Caron, founder of the nonprofit think tank Envision Maine and former president of GrowSmart Maine, as well as doctors, lawyers and businesspeople.
LePage said Tuesday that his expanded transition team will advise him on policy and administration selections, such as commissioners to various state government departments and staff positions.
LePage said he hoped to finalize a list of selections by the end of the year. He hinted that some of the members of his transition team could be among the finalists. He said he'd already interviewed and settled on two candidates for two positions, the commissioners of the Department of Public Safety and the Department of Conservation.
He declined to name the candidates, or to provide updates on potential department consolidation or elimination.
LePage said his team has received more than 1,000 resumes for about 150 government positions.