AUGUSTA — A low-key nomination to the state’s finance agency turned controversial Tuesday when a Democratic lawmaker questioned whether a Cumberland resident’s service in the National Guard made him a veteran.

Christopher Pierce was nominated by Gov. Paul LePage to serve on the Finance Authority of Maine’s board. The Legislature’s Labor Committee voted 7-3 to advance Pierce’s nomination for a vote in the Senate, but not before Rep. Paul Gilbert, D-Jay, said Pierce is not a veteran, a requirement to fill the one specific vacancy on the FAME board.

Gilbert, one of three Democrats who opposed the nomination, said Pierce’s Army National Guard service does not meet the criteria for veteran status. Pierce was in the Maine Army National Guard from 1971 to 1977.

Gilbert argued that the Army National Guard did not qualify anyone for veterans service during the 1970s.

“I think your credentials are great, but to fill a seat to be occupied by a veteran, that’s questionable,” Gilbert told Pierce during the confirmation hearing.

Gilbert’s question prompted lawmakers to call Michael Cianchette, LePage’s deputy legal counsel, to clarify. Cianchette said federal law has several criteria for veteran status, but the administration based Pierce’s nomination on state law.

The explanation did not satisfy Gilbert, an Army veteran, who said it would be a “slap in the face” not to follow federal law.

Gilbert’s comments prompted a rebuke from LePage. In a written statement, he said Gilbert’s statements were “offensive and out of line.”

“I am deeply disappointed by this comment,” said LePage. “All of our military service members are valued and should be recognized for their dedication to service. Rep. Gilbert may need a lesson on the freedoms we all share and how they came to be. … Many Maine Guard members have dedicated themselves to our state and nation and I commend all of them for their service and in too many instances their ultimate sacrifice.”

The state Senate is expected to vote on Pierce’s nomination Thursday.

Also Tuesday, LePage’s nominee to be labor commissioner won support from a legislative committee.

The Associated Press reported that the Labor Committee voted 10-0 to recommend the appointment of Jeanne Shorey Paquette, who is now deputy commissioner of the Department of Labor.

Staff Writer Steve Mistler can be contacted at 791-6345 or at:

smistler@pressherald.com