Independent candidate Marty Grohman speaks at a press conference Wednesday in Bath. (Nathan Strout / The Times Record)

BATH — Independent candidate for Maine’s first congressional district Marty Grohman on Wednesday continued his attacks on incumbent Democart Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, for past votes against the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). That hasn’t translated yet into an endorsement from shipyard workers at Bath Iron Works.

“Rep. Chellie Pingree has voted against the most important piece of legislation to our yard about half the time,” said Grohman, speaking at a press conference in Bath, noting that no other member of Maine’s current delegation had ever voted against the NDAA.

“If Chellie had had her way, Bath Iron Works and Portsmouth Naval Shipyard would have a padlock on the front gates,” he added.

Mike Keenan, president of BIW’s largest union, said that the Local S6 was not ready to make an endorsement in the District 1 race, although they had issued endorsements for incumbent Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, and Democrat candidate Jared Golden in District 2.

However, some members who follow national legislation had told him that Grohman’s attack on Pingree’s NDAA vote didn’t stand up to scrutiny.

“I’ll tell you what I got from the folks that look after the hall in that category, and what they state is it’s not a fair assessment,” said Keenan.

Keenan did voice support for Pingree’s efforts on behalf of the shipyard recently. For example, Pingree and Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-Maine, worked this summer to block an amendment that would have taken $250 million from the destroyer program that BIW focuses on to fund Virginia-class submarine projects at other shipyards.

“Certainly her recent actions with the $250 million … it’s times like that we’re very excited and proud that she’s doing her thing. She’s doing what the shipbuilders put her there to do,” Keenan said.

Grohman, who is in a three-way race with Pingree and Republican candidate Mark Holbrook, has made support for BIW the focus of his campaign in recent days, releasing an ad attacking Pingree’s past votes against the NDAA before following it up with a press conference in Bath Wednesday at a park overlooking the shipyard’s floating dry dock.

The Pingree campaign pushed back against Grohman’s attacks Tuesday, pointing out that the NDAA is a $717 billion piece of legislation with many components, making it irresponsible to approve wholesale.

“The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is an enormous piece of legislation that authorizes the spending of nearly a trillion dollars in taxpayers’ money and contains numerous new policies each year. It would be wholly irresponsible for any member of Congress to vote on any bill, let alone one as consequential as the NDAA, without reviewing it carefully on a case-by-case basis,” said Campaign Manager Eric Feigenbaum.

The NDAA is part of a two-step process for how the federal government funds the military. Congress authorizes spending in the NDAA, but actual spending is allocated in a separate appropriations bill. Grohman’s attacks focus on authorizations, not actual federal spending.

“You can’t appropriate what isn’t first authorized,” retorted Grohman.

But when pressed about whether there could be any policy or spending that would cause him to vote against the NDAA, Grohman declined to answer. Instead, he attacked partisan politics in Washington.

The 2019 NDAA, which was signed by the president in August, is a massive piece of legislation. The law authorizes spending on everything from nuclear weapons to military personnel pay to, the shipbuilding programs that benefit BIW. The scope of the NDAA is vast, yet Grohman would not answer whether there could ever be any policies in the NDAA that would cause him to vote against it, only stating that he would support BIW 100 percent.

Maine’s Congressional Delegation often tout their work to add provisions to bills that would benefit BIW, or at least tout their ability to block other provisions that could harm BIW. For instance, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, has often pointed to her work on the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee to secure funding for an additional destroyer at BIW in 2015.

Following the press conference, the Grohman campaign released a statement about what he would do if elected to help BIW.

“I also want to make sure we stop the plague of outsourcing work to other yards and foreign entities,” said Grohman. “Bath Built is Best Built — 100 percent of the time. It’s not just a slogan. I’ll be in direct and constant communication with Navy acquisition staff about the fact that we can build every part of these ships here better than anyone else. The Navy needs to know the outsourcing has to stop.”

Although outsourcing has been a hot button issue at BIW, including a lawsuit filed by the shipyard’s biggest union in 2016, the Navy does not dictate what parts of BIW destroyers, if any, are outsourced. Any decision to outsource shipyard components to other companies is a business decision made by BIW.

Grohman, however, was unable to point to anything specific beyond that he would advocate for to help BIW beyond blanket support for the NDAA and his desire to have BIW win the upcoming contract to build the Navy’s next generation of frigates.

Also in his statement, Grohman promised to put one of his state offices in Bath and make BIW a priority.

“If I’m elected, BIW is so important to me that I’ll open a state office right in Bath. I and my staff will be aggressively focused on what’s going on at BIW at all times and I’ll exclusively dedicate one of my professional staffers to be the point of contact and advocate for Maine’s shipyards,” said Grohman.

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