Politics

July 7, 2013

Maine legislator enjoys important first term

Republican Rep. Corey Wilson of Augusta found himself at the center of key issues and voting against his party.

By Michael Shepherd mshepherd@mainetoday.com
State House Bureau

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click image to enlarge

Corey Wilson earned an ‘A’ rating from the NRA and voted to expand Medicaid in his first term as a state representative.

Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

'THE MOST IMPORTANT RIGHT'

While Gerzofsky argues Wilson's highest-profile bill this session was bad policy, he and most in the Legislature didn't agree.

On Valentine's Day, Wilson was seated with Republican legislative leaders at a news conference. Earlier that day, the Bangor Daily News submitted public-access requests for the names, addresses and dates of birth of all concealed-handgun permit holders in Maine.

It echoed a New York newspaper's December decision to publish names of concealed-weapon permit holders in its coverage area after the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., but the Bangor newspaper said it was getting the names only for background reporting on domestic violence and drug abuse.

The lawmakers called the news conference to rebuke the newspaper, as earlier that week Wilson had introduced a bill to make that identifying information private.

"The point of this bill originally was to ensure that this type of information was not released in the manner that it has potentially been requested," Wilson said at the news conference.

The frenzied gun-rights grass roots jumped on the requests, calling and emailing complaints to the newspaper. Politicians capitalized. Legislative leaders passed a bill to prohibit temporary disclosure of the information within days.

Wilson's permanent bill passed the next month.

Wilson also became one of the highest-profile opponents of other gun-control measures, including bills to mandate background checks before private and gun-show firearm purchases.

None of those proposals passed.

"He throws himself right into issues he's interested in," said David Trahan, executive director of the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine, a pro-gun group that worked closely with Wilson. "He goes out there and fights for what he believes in."

During his campaign, the National Rifle Association gave Wilson an "A" rating; but Wilson said he doesn't vote they way he does to seek the group's approval.

"I've experienced a lot of things that lead me to believe that a person's individual right to protect themselves is probably the most important right in my view," he said. "If you can't protect yourself, how can you possibly protect the other rights that you're granted?

'A LOT OF COURAGE'

While Wilson toed his party's line on guns, that doesn't sum up his entire session.

Under heavy pressure from those on both sides of the aisle, he voted unsuccessfully to support Medicaid expansion -- one of the most hotly contested issues in Augusta this year.

Gov. Paul LePage and most Republicans vehemently opposed it because of concerns of future cost. Democrats made it one of their key goals. Wilson's name showed up on a list of lawmakers LePage staffers tried to have U.S. Sen. Susan Collins lobby on the issue, a request the senator's office refused.

Wilson's vote "showed a lot of courage, particularly as a freshman," said Assistant Senate Majority Leader Roger Katz, a Republican who brokered a compromise deal on expansion that narrowly failed to pass in the Legislature after a LePage veto.

"I think he's a good Republican, but he realized he was sent here to exercise independent judgment," Katz said.

Wilson, now pursuing a higher-education degree that would set him up to work in the health care industry, said his vote was motivated by many factors: reducing charity care costs to insurance ratepayers, supporting employees of MaineGeneral Medical Center in his district and belief in a "right to quality health care."

Wilson also grabbed headlines when he weighed in on the issue of the state moving mental health patients, including some found not criminally responsible for violent acts, into group homes in Augusta neighborhoods. Wilson said he was troubled when the Department of Health and Human Services did that recently in Augusta without first notifying city officials.

His bill, L.D. 805, appeared to initially stall with a 6-6 "ought not to pass" vote by the State and Local Government Committee, but the measure later received enough votes and cleared the House and the Senate. It became law without the governor's signature.

Augusta City Councilor Cecil Munson said Wilson has been attentive to community issues so far in the Legislature.

"All in all, he's a good listener," Munson said.

Wilson said voting his conscience hasn't damaged his relationship with his party. For example, he said people who disagreed with him on his Medicaid vote "respected that I at least had it in me to vote that way."

"I want my constituents to know I work for one person -- that's them," he said.

Michael Shepherd can be contacted at 621-5632 or at:

mshepherd@mainetoday.com

 

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