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Legislative Panel Rebuff's Gov's Dirigo Health Board Nominee
03/05/2013   Reported By: A.J. Higgins

There was a setback today for former Republican lawmaker Jonathan McKane, of Newcastle, whose bid to join the Dirigo Health board of directors was rejected by a legislative committee on a vote of 8 to 5. McKane had come under scrutiny for alleged postings on Internet message boards. McKane denied making some of the attributed remarks and downplayed others as "jokes." But as A. J. Higgins reports, the majority of Democratic and independent lawmakers on the Insurance and Financial Services Committee were not amused.

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McKane says he knew that his bid as Gov. Paul LePage's nominee to the Dirigo Health board of directors would be no cakewalk. Democrats hold a slight majority on the 13-member board. And McKane had a history as a staunch opponent of the Dirigo program in particular.

But, as he asked members of the panel, did any of that matter for an appointment to a board that is on its way to extinction?  "I would be one of a 12-member board that's going to be phased out in 10 months," McKane said. "It's not like this is the commissioner of Health and Human Services."

The Dirigo Health subsidized insurance health plan was advanced 10 years ago by former Democratic Gov. John Baldacci as a way to stimulate competition in the state's limited health insurance industry. The program never reached Baldacci's goal of providing affordable coverage, and might very well have failed without the infusion of about $25 million in state funding.

The program struggled until Republicans gained the majority in 2010 and began the process of eliminating funding needed for health insurance subsidies. Just as Dirigo is scheduled to phase out, new health insurance options are slated to become available under the federal Affordable Care Act. McKane opposes that too, but Senate Republican Leader Michael Thibodeau told the committee members that McKane's opinions shouldn't matter.

"Really, the question before you today is whether or not he has an understanding and the knowledge and intellect to serve in this capacity," Thibodeau said. "He may not hold the same viewpoint as some of the members of this committee but he certainly holds the same viewpoint as many members of the Republican caucus."

Another McKane supporter is former House Republican Leader Joe Bruno, who serves as chair of the Dirigo Health Board. Bruno voted in favor the bill that launched Dirigo, much to the chagrin of many Republicans like McKane. But Bruno says those disagreements should not stand in the way of McKane's nomination.

"I don't agree with everything that Jon McKane says," Bruno said. "I also know that he has attacked me, as Rep. Treat has pointed out. I have had that conversation with him. I think Rep. McKane and his viewpoint can add a lot. I don't think you want a homogenous board. I think it's OK to have someone who disagrees occasionally."

But there are allegations that McKane had referred to Dirigo supporters as "Diri-girls." McKane opponents told committee members they could produce copies of Internet message board conversations involving McKane on conservative Web sites that proved their allegations.

McKane was confronted by Democratic committee Chair Rep. Sharon Treat about referring to Dirigo proponents as "commies" and referring to Joe Ditre, of the progressive Consumers for Affordable Health Care, as "Joe Dirt." McKane denied those allegations.

Sharon Treat: "It's all posted on the Internet."

Jonathan McKane: "Well, I'd love to see it, I'd love to see it."

Sharon Treat: "We can share that with you later."

Jonathan McKane: "Well, OK great, because I look forward to it because I never called him that."

Sharon Treat: "Well, Mr. McKane says he did not say any of these things."

Jonathan McKane: "I didn't say I didn't say any of those things. But there's some of them that I did not say."

Sharon Treat: "So you don't..."

Jonathan McKane: "I never said 'commie' and I never said 'Mr. Dirt.'"

McKane opponent Rachel Sukeforth of Litchfield told the committee that the nominee had at times posted statements online indicating his belief that women should not be allowed to vote and blamed women for the election of President Barack Obama.

"I'm sure Mr. McKane would say this, like many other of his misogynist comments, is just a joke that we should get over it," Sukeforth said. "Well, I'm sorry, but the right of women not to be attacked for their gender when they vote, when they work in government and when they speak out for what they believe in is not a joke. It should be their fundamental right."

With no discussion, the committee voted 8-5 against McKane's nomination to the board. The nomination now moves to the Democratically-controlled Maine Senate, which is expected to support the committee's decision.



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