Maine Gov. Paul LePage’s (R) threats to withhold state funding did force a charter school operator to remove the Democratic speaker of the state House as its president, a top administrator for the operator testified Thursday.
The testimony that Jack Moore, the chairman of the Good Will-Hinckley board of directors, gave before the state House Government Oversight Committee gave credence to a federal civil lawsuit Rep. Mark Eves filed in July against LePage, according to the Bangor Daily News. Eves had accused LePage of blackmailing Good Will-Hinckley to get him fired, costing Eves his livelihood in retaliation for the House speaker opposing the governor’s policies.
Moore testified that communications between LePage and the board’s interim president about Eves raised a “red flag” in terms of fundraising, according to the newspaper.
“The red flag came from our interim president, Richard Abramson, who did get a call or a direct communication from the governor,” Moore said, as quoted by The Bangor Daily News. “We felt if we didn’t have the funding, that could very potentially trigger a series of events that could conceivably result in the school closing down. That is why as fiduciaries we as a board took the steps that we did.”
The board chairman added that LePage sent a handwritten note calling Eves a “hack,” which he’s since thrown away, according to the report.
Rep. Mark Eves first accused LePage in June of blackmailing Good Will-Hinckley in order to get him fired. He alleged that LePage threatened to withhold about $500,000 in state funds from the charter school operator, which would have resulted in a loss of an additional $2 million in private grants, if he wasn’t removed as its president.
Moore, who said Eves’ skill set as House speaker was “attractive” to the charter school operator, seemed to agree with that version of events.
“Throughout this process we were focused on fulfilling our fiduciary duties,” he testified, as quoted by The Bangor Daily News. “We could not have been doing that by going down the road to a series of defaults that could put Good Will-Hinckley in question. It would have been imprudent for us to just wait for the chips to fall.”
Eves’ attorneys welcomed Moore’s testimony as evidence that LePage blackmailed the charter school operator in order to oust their client.
“The GWH Board Chair’s testimony confirms that the Governor engaged in blackmail to get Speaker Eves fired without cause,” his attorneys said in a statement.
LePage’s office previously dismissed Eves’ lawsuit as “political.” But the governor said in a radio interview at the time that he did threaten to pull funding from Good Will-Hinckley because he believed Eves was an enemy of charter schools, comparing his intervention to stepping in “when a man was beating his wife.”