July 16, 2013

Maine Voices: Flap over recruiter bill's defeat distraction from more important issues

Gov. LePage should concentrate instead on job creation, health care access and school funding.

By Rep. Mick Devin

NEWCASTLE - I am one of the Democrats in the Maine House of Representatives who voted to support L.D. 1503 that would "provide uniformed recruiters for the United States Armed Forces or the Maine National Guard the same access to secondary school students as other post-secondary and career recruiters."

As a retired Navy veteran who graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy, served eight years on active duty and another 20 years in the Reserve, I felt that L.D. 1503 would standardize the rules for the wearing of uniforms in our schools for military recruiters, including midshipmen and cadets from the various service academies who visit their alma maters.

I did not see this as a local control issue, as schools still can and should determine when and where students are available to meet with recruiters.

Like the governor, I was disappointed that we did not achieve the 101 votes in the House to enact this mandate. Maine has a long history of supporting the military, and a standard policy of wearing the uniform made sense to the governor and me. However, that's where our agreement ends.

Since this vote was lost in the House last week, the governor has used it and us veterans as a political football. He has publicly chastised the Democrats who changed their vote on L.D. 1503 from the initial roll call.

It is hypocritical for the governor to complain about Democrats changing their vote. Over the course of the entire legislative session, there were likely fewer than 100 votes changed by Democrats on mandates and vetoes, while Republicans changed their votes to sustain his vetoes more than 1,000 times. The governor has openly and aggressively lobbied legislators to change their vote often throughout this session to suit his agenda.

In some cases, Republicans have flip-flopped their vote on bills they sponsored. Rep. Deborah Sanderson, R-Chelsea, did it twice when she changed her vote and did not support L.D. 555 and L.D. 610, two bills that she sponsored. Those are vote changes that warrant a handwritten letter. Why waste the time and money of the Legislature, state staff and the public if you do not feel your bill is worthy of becoming law?

Speaking of handwritten letters to legislators, I do not want our governor wasting his time sending handwritten letters to legislators.

If he is compelled to send 45 individual legislators a letter, he should direct his staff to draft it in a Microsoft Word file, finalize it and then have the letters printed on his letterhead for his signature.

That would enable him to concentrate on improving job creation in Maine, which was 48th in the country over the past year. Or figure out how to create an environment for well-paying careers, as he wrote in his veto message of L.D. 611 ("An Act to Increase the Minimum Wage").

Military recruiters fill an important role for all branches of the military service. They are tasked with informing and convincing young men and women to enlist in the armed services. Their job is in no way related to that of a school superintendent.

The governor's farcical statement, "I'd bet my life on the word of a recruiter over a superintendent any day of the week and twice on Sunday," is demeaning to school superintendents and insincere. The governor did not bet his life on the word of a recruiter. As a young man in the 1960s, he did not enlist or seek a commission in the military.

Another disturbing aspect of the governor's behavior regarding military recruiters wearing uniforms in schools is that it obscures the good bipartisan work done by the Legislature this session.

We created numerous laws that benefit veterans, including, but not limited to, L.D. 1137, "An Act To Facilitate Veterans' and Their Spouses' Access to Employment"; L.D. 1448, "An Act To Preserve Marine Resources Licenses for Active Duty Service Members"; and L.D. 1504: "Resolve, Directing the Adjutant General of the State To Ensure the Maine Code of Military Justice Addresses Sexual Trauma in the Military." I note that L.D. 1504 became law without the governor's signature.

This veteran is tired of the governor putting politics before people. Yes, I wanted a standard rule for the wearing of uniforms by recruiters. That battle was lost.

Now it's time to focus on more important issues, like creating good-paying jobs, funding schools properly and ensuring all Mainers have access to affordable and adequate health care.

Rep. Mick Devin, D-Newcastle, is a first-term member of the Maine House of Representatives.


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