January 8

Our View: Revised military recruiter bill should put issue to rest

Passing the measure will end a needless debate that’s shown each of the parties at its petty worst.

To see all that is wrong in Augusta, look no further than the once-controversial military recruiting bill.

click image to enlarge

Army recruiters Sgt. Stephen Wallace, left, and Sgt. 1st Class Brandon Didier talk with Portland Arts and Technology High School students during a 2012 job fair. A proposal that would ensure that recruiters are allowed to wear uniforms while visiting schools was defeated during the last legislative session. A similiar version of the bill will be introduced in the session that starts Wednesday.

2012 File Photo/John Ewing

A version of the bill, which would ensure that recruiters are allowed to wear uniforms while visiting schools, was defeated on the last day of the previous session, following an exchange of foot-stomping between Democrats and Republicans that had nothing to do with the issue at hand and everything to do with the rancor and pettiness that too often take over the State House.

Gov. Paul LePage submitted the bill based on a few, unsubstantiated claims, and Republicans were quick to paint schools as unpatriotic, even though there is little evidence to support that claim. Some Democrats, unwilling to give the other side a victory on a popular pro-military issue, refused to pass what at worst is a harmless measure.

Now, a similar version of the bill, this one with bipartisan support, will be introduced in the abbreviated session that starts Wednesday. It is likely to pass, ending a debate that took precious time although both sides ultimately agree it is the right thing to do.

This is why people hate politics.

LePage could have taken the time to call the schools in question. Republicans in the Legislature could have outwardly recognized that the complaints were isolated and in dispute.

Democrats, for their part, could have passed the bill with little fanfare. They could have pointed out that the problem is small if it exists at all, but the bill would make sure that it never grows. They could have taken the high road and passed a bill that had no adverse consequences.

Everyone could have moved on to issues such as Medicaid expansion and welfare reform, where the sides have significant disagreements that warrant substantial debate.

Instead, LePage pushed a bill that put the military in the middle of a political dispute. When the Democrats played adversary and blocked the bill, the Republicans ratcheted up the rhetoric. The governor even compared the Legislature’s actions to those of protesters who spit on veterans returning from Vietnam.

Now the issue returns, and it will be settled no differently than if it had passed six months ago, except for the wasted time and energy sucked up by politicians too focused on the next election to do the job given to them in the last one.

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