This story was corrected on April 1, 2011, to state that the Gold Star bill’s sponsor in 2009 was Rep. Everett McLeod, R-Lee, and had numerous co-sponsors around the state.


An effort to offer Gold Star license plates to families of fallen soldiers is getting new life with Gov. Paul LePage’s support and fundraising by the organizer of the annual Run for the Fallen Maine.

Maine is one of three states that do not offer the specialty license plates, which typically are issued to recipients of the gold star lapel button – widows, parents and other relatives of service members who die serving the country.

“One of the Gold Star families was telling me about it and I was shocked,” said John Mixon, who organizes the Run for the Fallen Maine.

Proposed legislation to issue the plates was defeated in 2009 because of the $10,700 in manufacturing costs. Mixon hopes his offer to pay the manufacturing costs upfront will allow the bill to be reintroduced, and passed.

The Governor’s Office is writing the new bill and will introduce it soon, LePage’s assistant counsel Michael Cianchette said Tuesday. LePage and his wife plan to contribute to the fundraising effort.

“Ann and I support this cause because, quite simply, it is the right thing to do,” LePage said in an email.

Maine offers more than 20 specialty plates, including plates for Purple Heart recipients, disabled veterans, veterans, former prisoners of war and Pearl Harbor survivors.

A “We Support Our Troops” license plate was made available in 2007 after supporters gathered 2,000 petition signatures. For each plate purchased, $10 is donated to a fund for family members of Mainers serving overseas in the National Guard and Reserves.

Officials threatened to retire the plate in 2009 because the state hadn’t sold the minimum of 4,000 to keep it in circulation. That sparked publicity that boosted sales and saved the plate.

If manufacturing costs for a Gold Star license plate were paid upfront, the state wouldn’t require a certain number to be sold.

The bill in 2009 was sponsored by Rep. Everett McLeod, R-Lee, and had numerous co-sponsors around the state. It would have limited Gold Star license plates to families who had lost loved ones since Sept. 11, 2001. The new bill would include families of all fallen soldiers from all wars and conflicts.

Because the language of the bill is still being written, Cianchette said it would be hard to estimate how many family members would be eligible.

About 50 families would have qualified for the Gold Star plate proposed in 2009.

Mixon, who is planning the fourth Run for the Fallen Maine on Aug. 21, said he has always been a supporter of U.S. troops. The memorial run stretches from Ogunquit to Monument Square in Portland. Each mile is marked with photographs of soldiers who have died since Sept. 11, 2001.

Nancy Lee Kelley of Old Orchard Beach, the chaplain for Gold Star Mothers of Maine, said that making the plate available to families would be another way to support families and honor those who die serving our country.

“Being a Gold Star Mother is not really a group anyone wants to be a part of,” she said. “We need all the support we can get.”

Kelley’s son, Capt. Christopher Scott Cash, died on June 24, 2004, while serving in Iraq. She has the “We Support Our Troops” license plate on her car now, but would likely switch to the Gold Star if it became available.

“I celebrate our sons and daughters who have given their lives for our freedom,” Kelley said. “The plate would be a way to recognize the families.”

 

Staff Writer Emma Bouthillette can be contacted at 791-6325 or at: [email protected]