June 29, 2013

Washington Notebook: Lawmaker was trailblazer for women in the military

By Kevin Miller kmiller@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

WASHINGTON - When the Pentagon announced earlier this year that women would finally be allowed to serve in combat positions, it was the culmination of decades of work by women who believed gender shouldn't dictate how a person serves his or her country.

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The U.S. Capitol in Washington.

The Associated Press

Nearly 40 years earlier, Sen. William "Bill" Hathaway of Maine played a role in helping open up other military doors to women -- specifically, the admissions gates of the U.S. military academies.

Hathaway, who died last week at age 89, was the primary sponsor of an amendment tacked onto a 1975 defense budget bill that required West Point, the Air Force Academy and the Naval Academy to admit women for the first time. President Gerald Ford later signed the bill into law.

The Senate action in June 1975 prompted the news wire service UPI to declare: "Another bastion of maleness -- the military service academy -- has fallen to the women's rights movement."

Hathaway, a Democrat who represented Maine for 14 years in the House and Senate, was by no means the only lawmaker in Washington pushing for the change. But he had taken a strong personal interest in the matter after he was apparently told by the Army in 1973 that he couldn't nominate a Maine woman for West Point "because we have no toilet facilities for them."

"That infuriated me," Hathaway told the Lewiston Sun Journal's Paul Mills in a 2009 interview

Hathaway responded by sponsoring stand-alone bills in 1973 and 1975 to open the academies to women, neither of which made it out of committee. His success in adding the language to the Senate budget bill in 1975 earned him a footnote in women's history.

"My feeling is that if we are going to have women in the services they should get the best training possible," Hathaway told The Associated Press that year.

A World War II veteran, Hathaway will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery alongside his late wife, Mary Lee Bird Hathaway, who also served in World War II as an Army nurse.

WEIGHING A RUN

Sunday is a significant deadline for Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud of the 2nd District as he weighs whether to officially join the 2014 race for governor.

June 30 is the cutoff date for donations that candidates will have to report on their July 15 campaign finance reports filed with the Maine Ethics Commission. Michaud's two likely opponents, should he decide to run -- Republican Gov. Paul LePage and independent Eliot Cutler -- have been raising money for some time, so the congressman would be playing catch-up.

But there's another reason Michaud has been aggressively seeking donations. If Michaud can raise a healthy sum in the three weeks since he set up his exploratory committee, it would send a message that Democratic loyalists are eager to back him down the stretch in what is expected to be a tight race.

Michaud's campaign declined to state how much it hopes to raise by the end of the day Sunday, but it's safe to say that six figures -- or close to it -- would make a splash. A weak campaign finance report, on the other hand, could signal lukewarm support for the Democrat.

IMMIGRATION FALLOUT?

Maine Sen. Susan Collins was one of 14 Republicans who voted in support of a historic immigration reform bill that passed the U.S. Senate last Thursday.

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