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Questions Linger After LePage's Finance Chief Resigns At Height Of Budget Talks

Mal Leary
Maine Public
Former Finance Commissioner Richard Rosen in May.

The Maine Senate passed a conspicuous and curiously timed resolution honoring Gov. Paul LePage's former finance director, Richard Rosen, Wednesday. Rosen abruptly resigned last week with no explanation and at the height of negotiations over the state's next two-year budget. Rosen's sudden departure is considered throughout the State House as more forced than voluntary.

Last week, Rosen ran into a reporter when he returned to the Cross Building to complete his termination paperwork. He was not prepared to talk about why he stepped down.

Rosen was reluctant to discuss it on Wednesday, after the Senate passed a resolution honoring him for his service as LePage's finance chief and in the Legislature.

He told reporters that, yes, he had resigned. But was he asked to by LePage?

"I submitted letter of resignation, so..." he said with a laugh.

Whether or not Rosen was forced to resign is significant because it reveals the political forces hindering lawmakers' ability to pass a budget and avoid a government shutdown.

As finance director, Rosen oversaw an array of state agencies, helped LePage craft his two-year budget proposals and provided information about state finances to lawmakers as they worked out a spending plan.

In short, he and his staff play a crucial role in providing finance data to the lawmakers drafting the budget. Many say that's what cost Rosen his job.

"Whether or not the governor has an opinion about Richard Rosen talking to Sawin Millett, again that's his prerogative to do," said House Republican leader Ken Fredette of Newport during a news conference last week.

Fredette has aligned his caucus with the governor during the budget battle. He was asked if the story that nobody wants to say publicly is true: that LePage demanded Rosen's resignation because he was mad that Rosen had confirmed or provided finance data for an old friend.

That friend is Millett, who was hired by the Senate Republican Office earlier this year to help with the budget. Millett previously held Rosen's job as finance chief. He and Rosen served together previously in the LePage administration and in the Legislature.

Fredette denied that he discussed Rosen's departure with LePage. Millett had a similar response, but he seemed to acknowledge that Rosen had been treated unfairly.

"I have the highest regard for Richard Rosen, so I feel badly for him. But I have no inside knowledge," Millett said.

Others are more outspoken about what happened. Jonny Asen is the chief of staff for Democratic House Speaker Sara Gideon. He generally keeps a low profile, but last week, when the governor muscled his way into stalled budget talks, Asen tweeted, "Does 'involved in budget process' really mean 'firing budget director' in middle of budget?"

On Wednesday, when Rosen's former communications director tweeted about the Senate's tribute to his former boss, Republican operative Lance Dutson fired back: "A real tribute would be his staff showing some spine and resigning in protest. Or speaking out. Rosen was fired for doing his job."

For now, Rosen has decided to stay quiet about his departure. After the Senate honored him for his service, he said he was glad he was alive to see it.

"I've heard many of the expressions like that that have been very nice, but unfortunately the recipient has not been above ground. So it was nice to be able to receive that kind of support. That was great," he said.

As for the budget stalemate, Rosen said he's confident that lawmakers will reach a compromise. The governor's press office did not respond to requests for comment for this story.