AUGUSTA – A legislative panel gave its approval to a pair of Gov. Paul LePage’s Cabinet nominees Thursday, immediately after their confirmation hearings.

The Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee unanimously endorsed George Gervais, LePage’s nominee for commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development.

It voted 11-2 to endorse Robert Winglass as commissioner of the Department of Labor. Two Democrats dissented.

Gervais was nominated to replace LePage’s first economic development commissioner, Philip Congdon, who was forced to resign in April after reportedly making a series of inappropriate comments in Aroostook County.

Winglass, if confirmed, will be the Republican governor’s first labor commissioner. A previous nominee withdrew her name in February.

Winglass, a 35-year veteran of the Marine Corps, began his career in 1957 as a second lieutenant, working mostly in logistics, finance and material management. He retired as a three-star lieutenant general in 1992, according to his resume.

Winglass later served as a Maine lawmaker and joined IBM to lead a team that lobbied on behalf of the company’s security products to entities such as the Department of Defense.

On Thursday, Democrats led the questioning of Winglass, focusing on what drew his interest in the job, what his knowledge of the department is and where he would like lead it.

“The main reason was, frankly, I just enjoyed a winter in Florida, had a great time, saw my grandkids down that way and then I said, ‘Geez, I still got a little fuel in the tank,’” Winglass said. “And then I looked around and I saw that there was no commissioner of labor, so I said, ‘Could I be the commissioner of labor?’ And then I decided I’ll throw my hat in the ring and become a candidate.”

He said he saw Maine Conservation Commissioner Bill Beardsley at church and let him know of his interest. The next thing he knew, he got a call from John Butera, the governor’s senior economic adviser.

Asked about his plan for the Department of Labor, Winglass said he would have a better answer “some time from now.”

“First of all, I’ve got to become more familiar with the organization,” he said.

Democrats also pressed Winglass about his knowledge and experience relating to the issues he would face as labor commissioner.

“Well, I did a lot of different jobs and I therefore have an appreciation for men and women in the work force,” he said. “I’ve become really more passionate about this issue once I was told I was going to be given consideration.”

Winglass said that while he “certainly can’t go over and start orchestrating activities in the Department of Labor by a long shot,” he has done a lot of reading and is “enthused.” He said he would work hard to reduce the state’s 7.6 percent unemployment rate.

Winglass also was asked about a letter he signed with other retired generals and admirals that opposed the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and was sent to the Obama administration.

Winglass said he’s not sure how the repeal of the policy on gay and lesbian service members will affect the military, but he hopes the transition will go smoothly.

Gervais has worked in the Department of Economic and Community Development since 2008 and is now acting commissioner.

Previously, he was a senior loan officer with two mortgage companies, was the founder and president of two Bangor-based companies, and for 20 years was the general manager of a family business.

Lawmakers from both parties spoke in support of his nomination. Gervais said that improving communication and working harder to connect with businesses and help economic development in Maine would be his top priorities.

In addition to Gervais and Winglass, two men were endorsed by the committee to join the state Workers’ Compensation Board. The committee voted unanimously to confirm Glenn Burroughs of Turner and Gary Koocher of Portland.

The nominees will be scheduled for Senate confirmation in the coming days.

MaineToday Media State House Writer Rebekah Metzler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at:

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