July 20, 2013

Bowen bucked LePage on hiring Miss Maine USA as education ambassador

By Michael Shepherd mshepherd@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — After lunching with her in late 2011, Gov. Paul LePage wanted to give Miss Maine USA a job promoting career and technical education at high schools, an idea his education commissioner called “nuts” in the midst of mounting state budget woes.

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This file photo shows Gov. Paul LePage and then Miss Maine USA Ashley Marble at the 2011 Lobster Festival on Maine State Pier.

Staff photo by Gordon Chibroski

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Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen

Related Documents

PDF: E-Mails about Miss Maine as education ambassador

“You guys know I’m a team player and I’m working 80 hours a week to get (a) constantly shifting education agenda put together. No way I’m doing this, though. Absolutely no way.”

Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen
Reacting to hiring Ashley Marble

Email between LePage education adviser Jonathan Nass and Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen, obtained this week by the Kennebec Journal, show that Bowen was adamantly opposed to the idea of hiring Ashley Marble, who finished in the top eight in the 2011 Miss USA pageant.

In an unusually strongly worded email, Bowen said hiring Marble would risk his personal credibility and the credibility of the department, also hinting at discord over LePage’s educational directives.

“You guys know I’m a team player and I’m working 80 hours a week to get (a) constantly shifting education agenda put together,” Bowen wrote. “No way I’m doing this, though. Absolutely no way.”

But Bowen backed off the email and apologized to Marble in a written statement on Friday, calling his email discussing Marble — which described her as an unqualified “beauty queen” — “uninformed and inappropriate.”

“This email from 2011 was written before I had a full understanding of the qualifications and character of this incredible young Maine leader,” he said in the statement.

In early 2011, LePage proposed a two-year budget that increased kindergarten through 12 education funding by $63 million over the last budget. That passed.

But as a reason against hiring Marble in 2011, Bowen made an apparent reference to a $220 million projected budget gap that the Department of Health and Human Services was facing, saying the hire “seems nuts to me” under the fiscal circumstances.

On Friday, Marble, a Topsfield native and former University of Southern Maine basketball player, said after meeting on education with the governor at the Blaine House, LePage’s office never offered her a job.

But Marble, now 29, said she agrees with LePage’s long-stated goal of promoting two-year community colleges as a viable alternative to four-year universities. She said the governor sought her out to discuss education.

At the meeting, Marble said there was “casual discussion about a potential position that might help kids and students in Maine,” but there was no followup from LePage’s office.

The initial email from Nass to Bowen on Dec. 16, 2011, said LePage wanted to hire Marble to promote a cultural shift that would make career and technical education, or CTE, “cool,” while educating students on “the many opportunities here in Maine for the trades.”

“Of course, I have no idea if you have any openings. Maybe there is a frozen position we can ‘thaw’?” Nass wrote. “Obviously, I’ll do whatever you need with (LePage’s budget department or human resources) to make this happen.”

Two-year, career-focused education at Maine’s community colleges has been one of LePage’s key issues since he campaigned for governor in 2010.

He has often said that since not every student will go to or succeed at a four-year university, schools must drive certain students toward CTE, which can yield faster job placement at a lower cost than at a four-year university.

Marble echoed many of LePage’s stances in an interview, citing school loans and trouble finding work in her field.

“I wish sometimes I went to a two-year technical school,” she said. “I was not totally aware and educated of those options and a lot of kids feel pressure to go to a four-year university.”

But in December 2011, Bowen didn’t take kindly to Nass’ email, calling Marble a “beauty queen with, from what I can tell, no CTE knowledge or background,” saying a job for her in the department wouldn’t happen on his watch.

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