Olsen and 'The Year of the LePage'?

Posted Wednesday, July 27, 2011 in News

Olsen and 'The Year of the LePage'?

Norman Olsen

by Gina Hamilton

AUGUSTA -- The LePage administration has abruptly lost another close adviser - the second in a week.  But Norman Olsen, unlike other outgoing staffers, didn't remain silent after his departure.

Just to recap, LePage has lost numerous staffers - most (unlike Olsen) because of their own personal foibles or because they weren't vetted properly before they assumed office, or because Gov. LePage didn't read the fine print clearly enough on their job descriptions.

Darryl Brown had to step down as head of the Department of Environmental Protection agency because of an obvious conflict of interest. Philip Congdon stepped down as head of Economic and Community Development after insulting Aroostock County residents, Native Mainers, and just about everyone else in the state complaining about Mainers' lack of initiative in a public speech.  Dan Demeritt, the Governor's communication aide, quit after his personal financial situation became common knowledge, and an arson fire was set in one of his soon-to-be-foreclosed properties.  Lawrence Dwight, newly appointed to the Consensus Economic Forecasting Commission, left office after being arrested for domestic assault.  Others have left without their reasons made public.  Dora Mills, longtime head of the Maine CDC, was fired from her new post in charge of MaineCare. The first candidate for DHHS turned down the job.  Peter Mills was courted for it, then offered the Maine Turnpike Authority position when Paul Violette's misdeeds were made known, before DHHS was finally offered to Mary Mayhew.

In short, it's been a turbulent Year of the LePage.

And it's not over yet.

Now Norman Olsen, Commissioner of the Department of Marine Resources, quit after an unhappy tenure with LePage.

After handing LePage a handwritten resignation letter last Tuesday, Olsen went to the press with an unusual statement, one that has raised eyebrows not only in Augusta, but in Portland as well, and is even raising concern among federal fishing authorities.

Here is an excerpt of that statement:

When I did get a meeting, and presented my initiatives to the Governor, he rejected them all:

-- No further collaboration with the City of Portland to develop measures to return our groundfish boats to Maine, despite the work already done to secure the support of visiting Commerce Department officials.  Portland was against him, he said, and we will not work with that city.  Rather than work with Portland, he said, we'll build a new port somewhere.

-- No further collaboration with the Director of the federal National Marine Fisheries Service to secure emergency federal assistance that could help return the fleet to Maine.

-- No consideration of measures to properly and prudently manage the heavily overcapitalized shrimp fishery so that Maine could gain the most value-added from this resource.

-- No collaboration with the federal government to jointly manage resources in federal waters.  Instead, he instructed his deputy legal counsel to find a way for Maine to supersede federal authority outside the three-mile limit.

Yet more disturbing, after that meeting in late June, the Governor sent his chief of staff and his chief of boards and commissions to threaten me with firing if I would not do whatever necessary to stop the complaints reaching him from special interest groups.  I was not allowed to know the source of the complaints, or their content, but I was to back off.  "If you don't turn this around by the end of summer, Commissioner Olsen, the Governor will have to make a hard decision, and you don't want him to have to do that, Commissioner Olsen."

Naturally Olsen was fielding complaints - fishermen are independent sorts who don't like   any regulation, and this particular commission is tasked with regulating the fishing industry.  However, many of Olsen's concerns have gained legs over the past week.

The mayor of Portland, Nicholas Mavodones is asking Gov. Paul LePage to respond to accusations Olsen made that LePage did not want to work with Portland. Thursday afternoon, LePage's office said that the governor and Patrick Keliher, the new acting commissioner of Marine Resources, would meet with Mavodones.  They did not respond to Olsen's allegations, but pointed out that LePage had asked for diesel tax holidays for commercial fisherman (a segment of the budget that was put off until next year).

More of a concern was the intimation that LePage intended to 'supersede federal authority outside of the three-mile limit'.  The only way for a state to do so is to break federal law. 

A clearly disappointed and discouraged Olsen said:

"I am leaving, not for health reasons, and not to spend more time with my family, and not to pursue other interests, which are all the commonly used themes for such resignations, but because this administration is more interested in pacifying special interest groups than in responsibly managing Maine's marine resources for the benefit of the entire state.  I cannot be part of that.  The legacy of my fishermen father, grandfather and great grandfather will not allow it."

It remains to be seen what will happen with the fisheries, and what will be the next ax to fall in the LePage administration.

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