By: Sarah Tewksbury, Free Press Staff
The USM chapter of Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) has invited Gov.Paul LePage to speak at Hannaford Hall on Tuesday, April 18 at 6 p.m. According to the USM YAF Facebook event page, LePage will be speaking about four different areas: “the budget, tax policy, welfare reform, and energy policy.” Ben Bussiere, the chairman for YAF, titled the event, “Making Maine Great.”
“The purpose of the governor’s visit is to inform students and community members about issues regarding the state of Maine,” Bussiere said. “I am hosting this event so people can be educated and informed on these key issues in our state. I also am hosting this event so community members and students can ask Gov. LePage questions that are important to them.”
Bussiere has been planning to invite LePage to speak since the fall semester. LePage, who has not been to Portland for a forum since 2015, will spend 45 minutes discussing current and future Maine policy topics, which will then be followed by a 15-minute Q&A period.
Since the beginning of the semester, the YAF group has attracted a considerable amount of attention due to controversial incidences. In February, YAF hosted an event where Maine State Rep. Larry Lockman discussed an immigration bill he was planning to sponsor. The event was protested and caused disagreement and discussion among USM administrators.
Increased publicity for the group has allowed for the USM community to become involved in the events YAF has sponsored. Though attention has not necessarily been positive, students say the presence of the small group has been felt on the Portland campus.
“I think it has negatively affected campus. It’s really stressful to have [Bussiere] and [YAF] host events, especially because it’s very clear that he’s hosting events with politicians who are controversial and far-right leaning such as Gov. LePage and Rep. Larry Lockman,” said Emma Donnelly, a sophomore social work major at USM. “He’s bringing politicians that spread hate rhetoric and make students feel unsafe, namely our queer, trans, immigrant and Muslim students and our students of color.”
Some students feel like tension has increased on campus because of the open presence of the group. Though YAF has experienced contention during the recent months, USM continues to support the presence of the group on campus. In an attempt to be fair and respectful to the public official visiting campus Tuesday, President Cummings has initiated that the President’s Office pay the rental fee for Hannaford Hall. Bob Stein, executive director of Public Affairs and Marketing, spoke about the cost of renting Hannaford Hall.
“Because Gov. LePage is a public official, USM picks up the cost of the rental,” Stein said. “He’ll be bringing his own security detail, but to compensate, we might be bringing in more security presence.”
Though Stein originally said USM pays for public officials to come to campus and does not charge student groups, such as YAF, for the cost, Elizabeth Morin, the director of Conference Services, has a different perspective. According to Morin, the cost of hosting LePage would be $900 and would cover a half-day rental. She also said that USM does not cover the cost of events for public officials. Upon further questioning, the office of the Conference Services referred Free Press staff back to Stein.
Following up on his initial comments, Stein detailed more clearly why USM has covered the cost of Hannaford Hall.
“The President’s Office has paid the cost of Hannaford Hall. President Cummings feels that when a statewide officeholder comes to USM, we should not charge a fee,” Stein wrote. “We recently did the same when Senator King held a town hall in Hannaford Hall regarding the nomination of Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court.”
The inconsistencies between administrative offices’ interpretation of the rules and protocols did not go unnoticed.
“President Cummings plans a university review of our guidelines on rental of space and security costs,” Stein said. “He feels we have not been consistent in the past with enforcing our guidelines, and is also uncomfortable with some specific guidelines on the cost of security. He wants USM to develop clearer guidelines that will be consistently enforced.”