Normally, the Maine Heritage Policy Center would be happy to know a candidate for governor had adopted its position on an issue.
But the organization has a right to be miffed when a candidate takes the center’s word-for-word testimony and presents it as his own.
Friday, the website Pine Tree Politics revealed that gubernatorial candidate Les Otten had responded to questions from the website Augusta Insider by lifting passages from testimony a MHPC staffer delivered at a legislative hearing.
Otten was responding to a question about Maine’s efforts to obtain Race to the Top funding, the federal initiative designed to encourage states to make substantial changes in the way they educate children.
One of Otten’s responses to the Insider: “The catch is that this is a competitive grant program. States across the nation have responded by passing comprehensive reform legislation that moves their states forward in a dramatic fashion.”
According to a printed account of MHPC legislative testimony delivered by Stephen Bowen: “The catch is that this is a competitive grant program. States across the nation have responded by passing comprehensive reform legislation that moves their states forward in a dramatic fashion.”
This and other wording by Otten wasn’t even an attempt to loosely paraphrase Bowen’s comments, rather it showed wholesale theft of his ideas.
Which, by the way, is the definition of plagiarism: Taking another’s words and passing them off as your own. According to the Legal Dictionary, the original is from the Latin “plagiarius,” which means “literally, kidnapper.”
In this case, Otten or one of his staffers might as well have clubbed Bowen’s ideas over the head, thrown them in a car trunk and driven off with them.
For his part, Otten was quick to apologize, calling it an “inadvertent oversight as the final draft of our response was being prepared.” Maine Public Broadcasting was reporting Friday afternoon that Otten had fired a campaign consultant as a result of the incident.
Bowen, according to the Portland Press Herald, was not accepting Otten’s explanation. “The tone of their response is, I guess, what bugged me,” he told the Press Herald. “It suggested it was inadvertent and accidental, and I don’t believe it was.”
The exact word-by-word nature of Otten’s answer strongly suggest Bowen’s right.
While the episode is certainly a black mark for the Otten campaign, this incident alone should not derail his campaign.
As oft happens, however, one case of plagiarism inspires journalists, bloggers and rival campaigns to dig through the candidate’s past statements.
Otten had better hope they find this was an isolated incident and not a pattern.