Liberal Maine town eyes adding civics lessons in wake of Trump win

Fretting over the election of Donald Trump has prompted a letter from the school superintendent to parents and staff in Brunswick that suggests the creation of a new civics and government course.

Superintendent Paul Perzanoski wrote in the Dec. 12 letter that “trepidation over the results of the national election appear to be at the forefront of people’s thoughts.”

“Through the dissemination of information reported over the last five plus weeks, it’s clear that we will have to prepare for a possible return to past ideas as a matter of proposed policy changes,” he wrote. “It is also clear that we as a nation can no longer be apathetic about our attention to the politics of the United States and we must have faith in the checks and balances of our government’s structure.”

Perzanoski implied that Trump’s election threatens students with diverse heritage or beliefs.

“[The election] does not dictate that an equal opportunity for every student will be lost because of his/her heritage or beliefs,” he wrote.

Perzanoski predicted a rush to expand school choice under Trump through the creation of more charter schools, or perhaps a voucher system that allows public school students to attend private schools with public funding. His letter also suggests that Trump will repeal the Common Core State Standards, which detail what public school students should know in English language arts and mathematics at the end of each grade. Trump’s pick for education secretary, Michigan billionaire Betsy DeVos, has already vowed to eliminate the controversial standards.

“Regardless of our political persuasions, we must help each other and listen to one another as we move forward,” wrote Perzanoski, who could not be reached this morning for comment.

As Maine’s political dynamics shift, Brunswick remains solidly liberal and loyal to the Democratic Party. The town’s voters overwhelmingly backed Democrat Hillary Clinton in this year’s presidential election, with Trump earning less than 30 percent of the vote there. Brunswick’s legislative delegation has for more than a decade been solidly Democratic and the town’s voters preferred U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat, by a wide margin over Brunswick resident Mark Holbrook, a Republican, in this year’s 1st District race.

This is not the first time Perzanoski has publicly criticized conservative education policy. In an Augusta 2012 welcome letter to staff, Perzanoski took aim at Republican Gov. Paul LePage.

“The legislators passed new laws on bullying this spring but they failed to include the Blaine House,” wrote Perzanoski. “Remediation is on the governor’s mind and I agree, he needs remediation in civility, public speaking, telling the truth, diplomacy and following the law. I think we should challenge him to take the SAT and then make the results public.”

Perzanoski issued a public apology for the 2012 letter but said at the time that stood behind his message. LePage’s staff called that letter “wildly inappropriate” and “defamatory.”

Officials in the governor’s office and Maine Department of Education did not respond Wednesday morning to questions about Perzanoski’s latest missive. — Christopher Cousins

Maine delegation on Trump’s secretary of state pick

Members of Maine’s congressional delegation voiced mixed reactions on Tuesday to President-elect Donald Trump’s nomination of Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson to succeed John Kerry as the U.S. secretary of state. Hat tip to the BDN’s Michael Shepherd for doing the legwork here.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree said Tillerson’s lack of experience in foreign policy “raises serious questions” but that her chief concern is Tillerson’s “close connection to Russia.”

“It’s deeply troubling to see a possible secretary of state who not only has ongoing business interests in Russia but a personal closeness to [Russian President] Vladimir Putin,” said Pingree in a written statement.

Independent U.S. Sen. Angus King voiced a similar concern, though he said he will keep an “open mind.”

“I am concerned about Mr. Tillerson’s connections to Russia and so I believe there needs to be serious discussion of that issue to ensure that we are not creating a situation in which a foreign adversary is able to take advantage of us in some way,” said King in a written statement.

Here’s a soundtrack.

Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins split slightly with King and Pingree. She said in a written statement that Tillerson has a strong business record and ample experience dealing with foreign leaders.

“That being said, I have never met Mr. Tillerson and look forward to learning more about his worldview prior to making any decision about whether or not to support his nomination,” she said. “I anticipate that his perspective on Russia, his views on the use of sanctions and his relationship with Russian President Putin will all be thoroughly explored at the confirmation hearings.”

Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, through a spokesman, declined to share his thoughts about Tillerson.

“As a member of the House of Representatives, Congressman Poliquin does not have the authority to approve or confirm the president’s cabinet picks. That work is done in the Senate,” wrote spokesman Brendan Conley. “The Senate will work to vet any nominees. There are always concerns raised on nominees.” — Christopher Cousins and Michael Shepherd.

Quick hits

  • House speaker spox: Mary Erin Casale, former executive director of the Maine Democratic Party, has been hired as incoming House Speaker Sara Gideon’s communications director, according to Monica Castellanos, who has been Gideon’s temporary spokesperson in recent weeks. Casale starts Jan. 3.
  • Beardsley out: As the Daily Brief deadline approached, Gov. Paul LePage announced that Deputy Education Commissioner Bill Beardsley has resigned his post for personal reasons. Watch for a full story.
  • Big visitors at New Balance: Three members of Maine’s congressional delegation — Collins, King and Poliquin — are scheduled to visit the New Balance shoe factory in Skowhegan today to celebrate the inclusion of a “made in USA” footwear provision in the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, which was recently approved in the House and Senate and is awaiting President Barack Obama’s signature. The so-called Berry Amendment states that new armed services members will be equipped with American-made athletic shoes when they arrive at basic training. The provision will be implemented during the next two years. — Christopher Cousins

Reading list

Running for office again, already

The ink is barely dry on last month’s election ballots and a congressional candidate has already emerged for the 2018 election. But don’t worry, he’s from California.

Arturo Carmona, a social justice and civil rights advocate, announced Tuesday that his push to replace Democratic U.S. Rep. Xavier Becerra in California’s 34th Congressional District. Bucerra has been appointed attorney general by Gov. Jerry Brown. 

Why do you care?

You probably don’t, but we’re wondering if Carmona has broken a record for the earliest congressional run announcement. In March 2015, just four months after the 2014 election, Emily Cain announced her ill-fated rematch against Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin.

There was a bit of grumbling about Cain’s early announcement at the time, but with this new context, announcing a run four months after an election is much more reasonable than four weeks, which also happens to be before the Congress elected this year is sworn in. Here’s Carmona’s soundtrack.

CORRECTION: Bucerra has been appointed attorney general, which explains Carmona’s early campaign announcement. — Christopher Cousins


Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.