Maine labor commissioner nominee, judges endorsed
AUGUSTA, Maine—Jeanne Shorey Paquette on Tuesday won a solid endorsement from lawmakers for the state Department of Labor commissioner appointment by the governor, telling them she would bring a rich mix of private and public sector experience to the job.
"My entrepreneurial and business ownership experience serves me well in our work at the department," Paquette told the Committee on Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development before its 10-0 vote.
Paquette, who has led the department as deputy director since former Commissioner Robert Winglass retired last month, said the education she has received as a business owner and human resources professional "helps tremendously in managing and leading the Department of Labor."
The department, which is mostly federally funded, administers Maine's unemployment insurance system, is responsible for ensuring the safety of public employees and provides workforce development and vocational rehabilitation services.
Five committees are meeting in the State House complex to take up a chunk of Republican Gov. Paul LePage's 72 nominations. More confirmation hearings are scheduled for Wednesday before the Senate comes in Thursday to vote on the committee recommendations. Committees hold considerable influence in the process because it takes a two-thirds Senate vote to overturn a committee recommendation.
The Judiciary Committee voted without objections to endorse the renominations of Superior Court Justices Jeffrey Hjelm of Rockland, Thomas Humphrey of Portland and Thomas Warren of Portland to the bench. The only candidate who is not already a judge, John Lucy of Orono, won a 12-0 endorsement for District Court judge.
The education committee endorsed James Erwin of Yarmouth, Norman Fournier of Wallagrass and Mark Gardner of Kittery to the University of Maine System Board of Trustees and OK'd several appointments to boards that oversee the community college system, Maine Maritime Academy and other boards.
In the labor committee, Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, lamented the loss of 10 Americans' logging jobs to Jamaican workers and asked Paquette, "Where do you come down on that?" He also invited the nominee to visit the northern Maine logging region to learn more about the issue. Paquette accepted the offer with promises to learn all sides of the issue.
In a more direct exchange between a labor committee member and nominee, Rep. Paul Gilbert, D-Jay, objected to the nomination of Christopher Pierce of Cumberland to a seat on the Finance Authority of Maine board that's reserved for a military veteran. Pierce, under sharp questioning from Gilbert, acknowledged that he served in the Maine National Guard, a background Gilbert did not think qualifies him to occupy the veterans' seat.
Gilbert called Pierce "an excellent candidate" but said he thinks "it's a slap in the face not to fill this with a veteran, and I'm voting no," drawing several cracks of the gavel and an out-of-order ruling by the House chair, Rep. Kerri Prescott, R-Topsham.
The exchange drew the attention of LePage, who said he was "deeply disappointed" by Gilbert's comment.
Laws defining veterans and their benefits have been changed through the years, leading to conflicting interpretations. But LePage said current Maine statute defines a veteran as any person who served in the U.S. Armed Forces and was not dishonorably discharged. The governor said Pierce was a member of the Maine Army National Guard from 1971 to 1977, when he was honorably discharged.
Pierce won a 7-3 endorsement.