July 14, 2013

LePage pens notes chiding Democrats on recruitment bill

The handwritten letters scold those who opposed L.D. 1503 for disdaining the U.S. military.

By Edward D. Murphy emurphy@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Since the Legislature rejected his proposal to ensure that military recruiters have access to high schools, Gov. Paul LePage has made it a major issue in Augusta -- even more than the lawmakers' override of his veto of the state's two-year budget.

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Gov. Paul LePage

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Last week, he followed up the heated rhetoric with handwritten notes apparently mailed to the homes of all the Democrats who opposed the bill.

Rep. Charles Priest, D-Brunswick, said he got his note Friday, at first thinking the small envelope from the governor's office was an invitation to some state event.

But instead, inside he found a note from LePage that read:

"Wow! I have not seen or heard such disregard for our men and women in military since the Viet Nam era. I thought that mind set had long ago died off. Shameful behavior from the past showing its ugly head again," it read.

LePage wasn't specific in the note, according to Rep. Brian Hubbell, D-Bar Harbor, but he apparently was referring to L.D. 1503, a governor's bill that would have made sure military recruiters faced no restrictions on meeting with high school students about careers in the military -- access that's guaranteed under federal law. The measure was defeated last week.

Priest, who won a Bronze Star in Vietnam, said the note left him somewhere between baffled and upset. "To say that I'm somehow not in favor of the military is absurd, given my background," Priest said.

Hubbell said apparently all 45 Democrats who voted against the bill Tuesday received similar notes from the governor. All House Republicans voted in favor of the measure.

LePage's spokeswoman said Sunday that he also wrote notes of thanks to Senate President Justin Alfond and House Speaker Mark Eves for supporting the military recruiter bill.

The note to Hubbell made points similar to the one sent to Priest, but ended, "I was wrong!" and "What a shame!" in referring to LePage's belief that an anti-military attitude had passed. Hubbell said some other lawmakers told them that LePage capitalized "WRONG" and "SHAME" in their notes.

Hubbell said the Democratic caucus was split on the bill, which was introduced by LePage as a governor's bill late in the session, The opposition was enough to kill the legislation, Hubbell said, because as a mandate on local government, the bill required two-thirds votes in both the House and Senate to be enacted.

LePage has since raised the bill repeatedly, saying in his weekly radio address Saturday that the defeat of the legislation was "one of the most appalling moves of the session" and suggesting it was a political act aimed at his administration.

He also said seven schools in southern Maine "allow only minimal access of recruiters" and high schools in Portland and Yarmouth bar uniformed recruiters from campus.

Several of the schools named by the governor deny that they have any such policies and Democrats who voted against the measure said the administration has never supplied proof that recruiters have a problem meeting with students.

"I'm not sure that these policies exist and, if they do, why," Hubbell said in explaining his vote against the bill.

Priest said he opposed the bill because he thinks local school officials should handle matters such as how to regulate visits by military and college recruiters. Hubbell said he's never had any other communication with the governor in his term and Priest said he's never gotten a letter from a governor during his previous terms in the Legislature. Priest served in the 1980s, when Republican John McKernan was governor, and since 2007, during Democratic Gov. John Baldacci's second term in office and under LePage, who was elected in 2010.

Priest termed LePage's note "a diatribe" and Hubbell called it a fit of "pique" that left him scratching his head.

"What can one make of it? One shrugs," Hubbell said. "There's a lot of things with this governor that you have to shrug about."

Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

emurphy@pressherald.com

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