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Good Will-Hinckley Backs Down on Eves' Hiring After LePage's Objections

Mal Leary
Maine House Speaker Mark Eves.

AUGUSTA, Maine - Maine House Speaker Mark Eves, a Democrat, will not be serving as the leader of the Good Will-Hickley school in Fairfield after all. Eves was hired for the post in late May and was scheduled to start his new job July 1. But in a statement issued late this afternoon, the board of the institution, home to Maine's first charter school, says it has voted to "seek a new direction for the institution's leadership."The announcement comes after Republican Gov. Paul LePage sent a letter to the board earlier this month objecting to Eve's hiring. LePage and Eves have repeatedly clashed during the session over a variety of issues, including charter schools.

"Although he is employed as a family therapist," the governor wrote to the board, "I have seen first hand that his skills in conflict resolution, leadership, negotiation and reconciliation are sadly lacking."

At the time, Eves declined comment on the governor's letter. But in a statement issued this afternoon, Eves accused the governor of "blackmailing" Good Will-Hinckley "because I have opposed his policies. He has threatened the Good Will-Hinckley School to either fire me or lose over $500,000 in budgeted state funds and thereby lose another $2,000,000 in private funding. The Governor knows that these financial losses would put the school out of business, but he has refused to back down. This is an abuse of power that jeopardizes Maine children."

In its statement, the Good Will-Hinckley board acknowledges that politics played a role in its decision. "The basis for this decision is grounded in the institution's desire not to be involved in political controversy that will divert attention away from our core mission of serving children and has the potential to jeopardize the future of our school," board members say.

Eves, who has been tight-lipped about the controversy until now, says LePage's efforts to intervene in his hiring "represent the worst kind of vendetta politics Maine has ever seen. If it goes unchecked, no legislator will feel safe in voting his conscience for fear that the Governor will go after the legislator's family and livelihood. The Governor's actions should deeply trouble every single taxpayer, Maine resident, and member of our citizen legislature. I have strongly disagreed with the Governor on many issues, but I have never gone after his family the way he has gone after me personally, my wife, and my three children."

Eves' attorney, David Webbert, says LePage "has violated our Nation's highest law by using taxpayer money to retaliate against a top leader of Maine's Legislature," and says he'll file a civil rights lawsuit on Eves' behalf.

When asked about the lawsuit by MPBN News, LePage offered little comment.  "I can't talk about it, " he said, "because I have been advised by my attorneys to stay away from that, let him do what he's got to do. He's not the only one that has a right to the First Amendment."

Augusta state Sen. Roger Katz, a Republican, says House Speaker Eves is clearly qualified to lead Good Will-Hinckley.

"This really goes beyond the political - this becomes personal and vindictive," Katz says. "And I often disagree with Mark Eves, but he's a fine and honest man. More importantly, he's a husband and a father of three beautiful kids and he's trying to support his family. Political battles are one thing, but trying to ruin someone is quite another. And this is a sad episode."