In the latest point of contention between Governor Paul LePage and Maine lawmakers, LePage withdrew his nominee for Education Commissioner on Tuesday, saying Democrats on the Legislature’s Education Committee planned to reject Bill Beardsley for political reasons.

“I am temporarily withdrawing Dr. Beardsley’s nomination because Democrats on the Joint Standing Committee on Education are planning to unanimously oppose him solely for partisan political games, without regard to his impeccable qualifications,” LePage said in a statement. “Let me be perfectly clear: I have enormous respect for Dr. Beardsley, and I have full confidence in his qualifications. He is my choice for commissioner of DOE, but I will not allow him to be a political whipping boy for socialist Democrats.”

LePage said he would re-nominate Beardsley “once Democrats put aside their childish and immature political games.”

Beardsley, a former Maine conservation commissioner and president of Husson University, was named acting DOE commissioner in October 2015.

Beardsley has faced controversy before during the state’s nomination process, getting appointed to the State Board of Education in 2012 after a significant floor debate and a party-line vote.

Committee member Sen. Rebecca Millett, D-Cape Elizabeth, described the governor’s characterization of the committee’s intentions as “inappropriate and incorrect.”

“I think it’s unfortunate that it’s gone this route,” Millett said. “I think we take the nominees very seriously and are very respectful of all nominees. We’ve approved all but one,” she said, referring to the dozen-plus LePage appointments to various education boards who have come before the committee.

In 2014, the committee unanimously endorsed – and gave a standing ovation – to Jim Rier, LePage’s last nominee for education commissioner. Rier stepped down for medical reasons later that year.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Education said Beardsley was not available for comment on Tuesday.

Beardsley is the third acting education commissioner since LePage’s first commissioner, Stephen Bowen, stepped down in August 2013. Tom Desjardin was named in April 2015 after Rier left. After appointing an acting commissioner, the governor has six months before he must nominate a permanent commissioner, who must be confirmed by the Legislature.

Committee House Chairwoman Victoria Kornfield, D-Bangor, said in a statement that the committee had planned “a substantive, transparent discussion,” but did not address the governor’s accusation that the Democrats had planned to oppose the nomination. She refused further comment.

On Tuesday, Equality Maine said they opposed Beardsley based on comments he made during his 2010 run for governor, during a radio interview with the Aroostook Watchmen. According to the organization, he said, “I believe that we should not have gender or sexual orientation as an integral part of the Human Rights Act, and I’ll do what I can to change that.”

“Bill Beardsley has a history of discriminatory comments toward LGBT Mainers that make him unfit for the job of Education Commissioner” said Meredith Hunt, EqualityMaine board president.

The head of the state’s teachers union, Lois Kilby-Chesley, said Tuesday that they had not taken a position on whether to support Beardsley as permanent commissioner, but said some teachers had expressed concerns about his time at Husson.

A Republican on the committee, Rep. Michael McClellan of Raymond, said the caucus had discussed the issue.

“We heard there might be some issues brought up, so I’m not surprised,” he said, adding that he planned to support Beardsley. In general, he said, he believes with such appointments, “you should let them have the person that they want to work with.”

LePage’s announcement – and his description of committee members as “socialist” Democrats – follows his written State of the State message Monday, which included some version of the word “socialist” a dozen times.

LePage said Democrats were going to reject Beardsley over a recent dispute on how state education officials expect local school districts to handle issues regarding transgender students, in the wake of a January 2014 Maine Supreme Judicial Courtruling that established landmark transgender youth law in Maine.

It was the first ruling nationwide in which a state supreme court affirmed a transgender person’s right to equal access to public restrooms.

The Department of Education and the Maine Human Rights Commission drew up proposed rules for the state DOE to issue, but the governor’s office refused to sign off on them, saying the Legislature needed to pass a law first. In light of the governor’s decision, the Commission issued guidelines – which lack the force of DOE-issued rules – in January.

Education leaders in the state, including Richard Durost, executive director of the Maine Principals’ Association, say the impact of issuing guidelines versus rules is minimal, because the vast majority of Maine’s high schools have already addressed the Commission’s guidelines, such as allowing transgender students to play sports with teams corresponding with their gender identity.

But LePage pointed to an opinion from Chief Justice Leigh Saufley regarding the 2014 ruling, in which she said the Legislature should correct a contradiction in the language of the Human Rights Act, which includes “sex” as a protected class. The ruling could, she said, be interpreted to mean a restaurant could not bar a man from using a women’s bathroom.

“Once the Legislature fulfills its legislative duty by establishing a clear policy on this matter, the Executive Branch will move ahead with rulemaking to implement this law,” LePage said Tuesday.

The Maine Human Rights Commission guidance says schools should allow a student with a “sincerely held” gender identity to be recognized in all ways as that gender, including using bathrooms, playing sports, being addressed by a preferred name and pronoun, and being allowed to dress as preferred. It also states that the school should abide by the wishes of the student while at school, even if the student’s parent or legal guardian disagrees.

Beardsley, a member of the State Board of Education since 2012, previously served as commissioner of the Department of Conservation from 2011 to 2012. He was president of Husson University from 1987 to 2010, and is credited with taking it from a small, struggling college to a Bangor institution.

Beardsley has repeatedly had to answer questions about how he handled the case of Bob Carlson, a former chaplain at Husson University who committed suicide after learning state police were investigating allegations that he sexually abused several children over 40 years.

Beardsley was drawn into the scandal because he was named in a police report saying he had received two phone calls, one in 2005 and another in 2006, that suggested that Carlson had participated in a homosexual relationship. Beardsley told police that he confronted Carlson after the second caller in 2006 threatened to make the relationship public.

Beardsley told the Portland Press Herald in August 2012 that he told Carlson that if he had done anything wrong he shouldn’t be on campus, and that Carlson immediately resigned. Beardsley later acknowledged that he had not categorically banned him from campus.

Last year, Beardsley repeated what he told the Legislature’s education committee in 2012: He had no knowledge of any illegal activity by Carlson. Beardsley was eventually confirmed to the State Board of Education after a vigorous debate on the floor of the Senate and a party-line vote of 19-13.

Noel K. Gallagher can be reached at 791-6387 or at:

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Twitter: noelinmaine