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Saturday, July 25, 2015

Maine Public Radio account by AJ Higgins ref World Acadian Congress

Yesterday, I posted a blog with news from the Bangor Daily News "Tipping Point" blog about how Governor LePage is reported to have leveraged the resignation of respected community leader Jason Parent, as the Maine chairman of the World Acadian Congress (Mondial), in 2013. He reportedly did this by threatening to withhold money from the festival.

Today, July 25, A.J. Higgins reported on this story on Maine Public Broadcasting Network radio's "Weekend Edition". 

LePage Accused of Threatening Group to Fire Director in 2013

Jason Parent

It's evident to me, the reticence of those involved in this report about the Governor threatening to withhold funds from the Congress unless Jason Parent was fired is related to their fear of political retribution. In fact, if the story had any misleading or erroneous information, those involved would've quickly challenged this report. There has been no challenge to the Bangor Daily News article, except from the office of Governor LePage, where the response was that the threat didn't happen.  

In fact, if Governor LePage had actually withheld money from the World Acadian Congress, this promised allocation would've made him look very bad with his colleagues, in New Brunswick and Quebec, that were the festival's partners in Canada. 

Nevertheless, those who know Jason Parent would unanimously testify to his extraordinary integrity. If the report about Governor LePage threatening to withhold World Acadian Congress monies were NOT true, I am confident Jason Parent, himself, would've already challenged with a public response to this story. He hasn't responded to my email query, either, and he has always done so in the past. Therefore, I firmly believe his reticence is an affirmation about the veracity of The Tipping Point blog in the Bangor Daily News (BDN).

If this story were an isolated incident, or if Jason Parent were other than a well known and respected leader, this story would never have been allowed to fester for two years.  It's because the information reports the leveraging of another high level resignation and the target was such a highly respected community leader, that's kept this story alive. It's another black ink blot to, unfortunately, tarnish Governor LePage's vengeful management style.

A.J. Higgins reports:

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 withhold funding for the organization, Steele says LePage actually rescued the $1 million in funding for the World Acadian Congress.

(Maine Writer says the funding of $1 million was likely in response to requests made to the Governor from his colleagues in New Brunswick and in Quebec, who had already put up quite a bit of provincial money to support this international event.)

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