AUGUSTA, Maine — A threat allegedly made two years ago by Gov. Paul LePage to a group known as the World Acadian Congress is generating more scrutiny about the governor's use of power.
Several board members have confirmed to a political blogger that LePage threatened to withhold funding for their organization unless they fired their director.
The LePage administration says the accusation is false.
Some of the messages are mixed and some of the messengers are not exactly unbiased, but the revelations of yet another alleged threat by the governor to withhold state funding from an organization unless he got his way is raising eyebrows around the State House.
Former Democratic state Sen. Judy Paradis says she's not surprised that it took two years for word to leak out that LePage had threatened to withhold a $1 million payment to the World Acadian Congress unless its board agreed to fire its then director Jason Parent.
"They circled the wagons and they just said, 'Mums the word,' and there's a fall guy involved and — too bad," Paradis says. "It left a bad taste in everybody's mouth."
MPBN's efforts to reach the fall guy, Jason Parent, were unsuccessful, but Mike Tipping of the progressive Maine People's Alliance first announced in his Bangor Daily News blog that he had spoken with Parent.
Tipping says Parent confirmed that in the spring of 2013 a representative of the LePage administration had pressured the Acadian board to fire him as Maine president of the Congress or the state would withhold the first installment of a $1 million payment to the organization.
Anne Roy, a board member and director of the Acadian Village Museum in the Aroostook County town of Van Buren, says she was told LePage wanted Parent gone and that Parent ultimately resigned from the organization.
"That if we did not make Jason Parent step down, that we were going to lose our million dollars to be able to do the World Acadian Congress here in the St. John Valley," Roy says.
Maine's St. John Valley joined a partnership with New Brunswick and Quebec to host the 2014 World Acadian Congress, a two-week festival that unites Francos from Maritime Canada, Quebec, Maine, Louisiana and across the world.
The event, held every five years, brings together tens of thousands of Acadian descendants.
Roy says the reason LePage wanted Parent out of the Maine coordinating effort stems from a fairly innocuous event.
The group was selling World Acadian Congress vanity license plates back in 2013 to raise money for the celebration and had decided to present one of the plates to each of the state's top elected officials. Then-U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud happened to be in the area, so the group gave its first one to him.
Although Michaud had not yet announced a run for governor, Roy says LePage was insulted by the group's decision.
"Because Mike Michaud received the plates before the governor, the governor got all huffy and puffy and threatened to withhold our money if we didn't make Jason step down," Roy says.
Roy acknowledges that she never heard anyone from the LePage administration make that threat directly. She says the information was conveyed to her by other board members.
But in his blog, Tipping says unnamed members of the board had assured him the funding threat and firing order was delivered.
Efforts by MPBN to reach some of the board members for comment were unsuccessful, but Roy says that since Tipping's blog post, the board members are now saying that Parent's resignation was sought for performance issues.
"I think it's just a way of covering up what took place, everybody is in some way tied to the governor in wages and jobs and they don't want to be involved," Roy says.
Tipping says that despite what the board members are saying now, he knows what they told him.
"All of the people I talked to in my notes and recordings confirmed that was the issue of discussion around Jason Parent's resignation," Tipping says.
In a written statement, Peter Steele, the governor's communications director, denies that the governor had ever sought any retribution against Parent or threatened anyone.
He says both Roy and Parent are Democratic operatives. He's also described Paradis in similar terms.
Instead of threatening to withold funding for the organization, Steele says LePage actually rescued the $1 million in funding for the World Acadian Congress.