Maine governor-elect fills Cabinet posts for defense, public safety
AUGUSTA, Maine — Paul LePage, the governor-elect, announced his choices yesterday to head the state departments that ensure public safety and security, the first of 15 Cabinet appointments he will make in the weeks ahead.
The Republican said Major General John Libby has agreed to stay on as commissioner of the Department of Defense, Veterans, and Emergency Management.
John Morris, the former Waterville police chief who was LePage’s gubernatorial campaign chief of staff, is his choice for commissioner of the Department of Public Safety.
The Public Safety Department oversees State Police, fire marshals, and other law enforcement functions. The Department of Defense, Veterans, and Emergency Management oversees the Maine National Guard, veterans affairs, and disaster response.
The nominees will face legislative reviews, but confirmation is likely in the Senate, where the GOP has a majority.
A top legislative Democrat, House minority leader Emily Cain of Orono, called Libby “far and away the best candidate for the job,’’ but she was more reserved about Morris. She said Democrats want to learn more about his credentials to head statewide public safety.
LePage had high praise for both of his nominees, citing Libby’s work mobilizing thousands of Maine troops for the war in Afghanistan and Iraq and leading responses to more than a dozen disasters and several emergency declarations.
Libby, a Lewiston native and Waterville resident whose military service started in 1966, was appointed commissioner in 2004 by Governor John Baldacci, a Democrat.
“I’m honored to be in the same room with him,’’ LePage said of Libby.
Libby said he can bring institutional knowledge to the new administration and pledged to continue close ties with the Public Safety Department in security-related matters. Libby also said his decision to remain on the job was an easy one: “I really love what I do.’’
Morris, who was Waterville’s police chief from 1994 to 2007, is a 30-year Navy veteran with three tours in Vietnam and experience as commanding officer of a warship.
He said his background gives him confidence in running the department.
LePage, a Lewiston native who went on to become the Waterville mayor, made light of his time working for city government with Morris. “While he was chief of police in Waterville, we fought like cats and dogs — him for more money [for the department] and me for less.’’
LePage also brushed off the Waterville connection shared by himself and his two appointees, saying there will be one more appointee at the most with ties to that city.
LePage, who proposed money-saving restructuring of state services during his campaign, said there have been no discussions with his nominees so far on changes that may be contemplated within the two departments.
“As soon as they are confirmed, we will have that discussion,’’ LePage said.