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Otten Fires Staffer in Wake of Plagiarism Flap
05/03/2010   Reported By: A.J. Higgins

Republican gubernatorial candidate Les Otten has fired a campaign staffer who acknowledged that he copied a policy statement from a former GOP state lawmaker. The discrepancy was revealed on a blogging site operated by a staffer with the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Otten says he's taking responsibility for the faux pas, but the candidate also suspects some underhanded politics may be driving the controversy.

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Otten Fires Staffer in Wake of Plagiarism Flap Listen

For the second time during his campaign, Les Otten has been forced to address charges of plagiarism. First, it was a campaign logo and Web site that critics said closely resembled that of President Barack Obama's.

Now, a staffer with the National Republican Senatorial Committee has attacked Otten for lifting testimony from a representative of the Maine Heritage Policy Center and passing it off as his own in response to a questionnaire. "One of my staffers made a grievous, unforgivable error," Otten says.

Otten's problems began when he responded to some education policy questions posed on a Maine politics blog known as The Augusta Insider. A portion of Otten's response was lifted from testimony by Steve Bowen, a current staffer with the conservative-leaning Maine Heritage Policy Center who is also a former state lawmaker.

Matt Gagnon, a staffer with the National Republican Senatorial Committee found out about the fradulent statement and posted an entry on his Pine Tree Politics blog. Otten apologized and then fired the staffer who lifted Bowen's remarks in the first place.

"One, there was an error. Two, I took responsiblity for it. Three, I apologized for it. And four, I dealt methodically with asking and accepting the resignation of the staff member," Otten says. "I would behave in exactly the same manner when I'm in Augusta. There are mistakes that get made. When they rise to this level, the governor, or the candidate, needs to take responsibility, get to the bottom of it, apologize then take appropriate action."

That wasn't good enough for Bowen, who said on his own blog that Otten's word-for-word phrasing amounted to more than just an "inadvertent oversight."

Meanwhile, Otten's primary opponents are joining the fray. GOP gubernatorial candidate Bruce Poliquin rapped Otten for exercising what he calls "incredibly poor judgment."

Although neither the non-partisan Heritage Policy Center nor blogger Matt Gagnon are backing any Republican candidate, Otten remains suspicious about exactly why his story is tearing up the blogosphere. "Do I have suspicions? Yes. Do I care to comment? No," he says. "Ronald Reagan often spoke of the 11th commandment, which is 'Thou shall not speak ill of thy fellow Republicans,' and since I live in a glass house, I prefer not to throw stones."

"I'm obviously not exactly an impartial source in this because I give a lot more grief to Otten than I think an impartial person would," says Gagnon, who says he was tipped off after reading a comment on another blog.

Gagnon says borrowing established positions from other prominent politicians seems to be a recurring theme in the Otten campaign. "We're talking about areas here where they're going across the campaign and he seems to either not have a problem with it, or he seems willfully ignorant to be able to make sure that this stuff isn't going on."

Mark Brewer, a political science professor at the University of Maine, says Otten needs to pay close attention to his campaign. "I think potentially that could be very damaging," he says. "You know, that's not a very hard one to wrap your brain around, and if his opponents are just pounding away, that, you know, that he's less than truthful and less than trustworthy, I think it could be an interesting case."

Otten will have a larger opportunity to expand on his credientials at this weekend's Republican State Convention.


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