Like most new governors, Paul LePage is taking his time putting his cabinet together, but the process is far enough advanced so we have a pretty good idea what the group will eventually look like.
One obvious point is that it will closely resemble the governor. LePage is 61, and the average age of his first 11 male appointees is 64. The oldest is Finance Commissioner Sawin Millett at 73, while the youngest, transportation nominee David Bernhardt, is a mere 50. Still, six of the 11 are over the traditional retirement age of 65, so this may be the oldest cabinet ever. We may have 20-something legislators, but the younger generation will not run any state departments.
A partial exception is Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew, just 46, one of only two women so far nominated; Cheryl Russell, 52, was named Wednesday to head Labor.
Mayhew, former Maine Hospital Association lobbyist, moved over from the governor’s staff after his quest to appoint a woman from out-of-state proved fruitless. As LePage memorably put it, “I will tell you right now, I have been rejected more by women in the last two weeks than in four years of high school and six years of college.”
In fairness, it’s not easy to find a good leader for DHHS, by far the largest department. Angus King did well with Kevin Concannon, who came back to Maine from a similar post in Oregon, but when John Baldacci declined to keep Concannon, a void ensued, particularly the Department of Mental Health had been merged into DHHS. It took several years before Baldacci promoted Brenda Harvey from within, who then proved her effectiveness.
As with all cabinets, impressions are mixed. LePage leans fairly heavily on former candidates and legislators. Bill Beardsley at Conservation was one of LePage’s primary opponents, while Walt Whitcomb at Agriculture is former House Republican leader. Millett served four House terms before losing a Senate bid last November. Chandler Woodcock, tapped for Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, lost the 2006 governor’s race to Baldacci and was Senate assistant minority leader.
John Morris, 71, the Public Safety commissioner, has received tepid reviews; he was previously Waterville police chief when LePage was mayor. And Public Safety is a tough job, with several warring fiefdoms.
On the other hand, Norman Olsen, 59, a State Department diplomat with a background in lobstering, has created a favorable impression at Marine Resources, though some say he could listen more. Olsen succeeds the capable George Lapointe, a 10-year veteran originally appointed by King.
Maj. General John Libby, at Defense, Veterans, and Emergency Management, is the only Baldacci appointee kept on.
Confirmation hearings have been inordinately low-key, even when nominees said surprising things.
Philip Congdon, 69, a retired engineer who worked in the LePage campaign, is the new Economic and Community Development Commissioner. Testifying before the merged labor/business committee, Congdon described his economic development background as “thin,” and – questioned by Sen. Troy Jackson about job development in Aroostook County, said, “I haven’t thought about it.”
Nonetheless, Jackson said Congdon’s honesty was “quite refreshing,” and voted with a unanimous committee in favor.
That awakened Senate Democrats, nine of whom voted against the nomination, led by assistant leader Justin Alfond, who was “dismayed” by Congdon’s “lack of preparation.” Jackson also switched after hearing from constituents. Since then, there’s been less unanimity.
At Congdon’s first meeting with top staffers, he showed a video of LePage’s inaugural address -- twice -- and suggested job duties be revised accordingly. One presumes they got the message.
Even the confirmed cabinet members aren’t fully settled. On Monday, the Androscoggin River Alliance filed a petition with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency concerning DEP Commissioner Darryl Brown, who owns a land development firm that has frequent business before DEP. At his confirmation hearings, Democrats pronounced as insufficient Brown’s measures to distance himself from the firm.
But the Androscoggin Alliance is alleging a more serious flaw – Brown may have gotten more than 10% of his business from DEP-approved contracts, prohibited under the federal Clean Water Act.
LePage spokesman Dan Demeritt called the EPA petition “a stunt,” but Brown’s own words suggest otherwise. At his confirmation hearing, he said “probably 25-35 percent” of his company’s work is “DEP-related.” If EPA confirms this, Brown might have to step down.
Education is the biggest portfolio still unfilled, but Professional and Financial Regulation also needs a commissioner. LePage hasn’t moved yet to appoint a State Planning Office director.
So the slate is incomplete, but cabinet meetings should be an interesting place to be.