For Immediate Release
AUGUSTA - In a surprise turn of events Tuesday, several House Democrats flipped their votes on LD 1503, a bill that would have allowed military recruiters the same access to Maine public schools as civilian career recruiters and would have further allowed them to wear their uniforms while visiting schools.
Education Committee Democrats initially voted against the bill and Democrats narrowly killed a similar bill on the House floor. However, passionate debate by House Republicans, many of them veterans, persuaded Democrats to reject their committee's majority report and vote in favor of LD 1503, 115-28, on June 4.
Democrats then attempted to defend their vote against military recruiters by saying there was no problem in Maine schools, citing school officials who scrambled to deny accusations by recruiters that they had restricted recruiters' access and refused their entrance while uniformed. E-mails obtained by the Portland Press Herald pointed to specific schools and specific actions taken that formed the basis for the recruiters' complaints.
Some Democrats, however, went so far as to defend the schools outright, saying in floor debate that uniformed military service members may intimidate high school students. On Tuesday afternoon, when LD 1503 came up for an enactment vote which requires two-thirds support, several Democrats switched their votes, preventing the bill's passage with a tally of 97-45.
"Basically, Democrats took the word of a few school administrators over our military service members," said Rep. Corey Wilson (R-Augusta), a Marine veteran who was especially vocal in the wake of last month's votes. "If recruiters are going so far as to contact the Department of Education, then there's something wrong in some of our schools. They're not being treated with respect and I find it despicable that Democrats would cover the tracks of a few of their friends in the education establishment while delivering a hard slap in the face to our troops."
Retired Coast Guardsman Rep. Jonathan Kinney (R-Limington) was baffled by the Democrats' position on both bills pertaining to military recruiters. "The military is one of the best job opportunities available to young people," he said. "Today's military offers technical training, tuition assistance, and invaluable real world experience. A vote against these bills was not just a vote against our military; it was a vote against jobs."
House Republican Leader Ken Fredette of Newport agreed with Wilson and Kinney.
"If the school officials are right and there's no problem, and the recruiters are somehow making all of this up, then what's the problem with passing a bill to ensure that our troops are treated respectfully and fairly when they do their jobs in schools?" he said. "I'm absolutely baffled that this is even a controversial issue."
Military recruiters had named several schools in southern Maine as being hostile, and the Department of Education worked with them to craft LD 1503, which was designed to help them overcome the unfairness they faced. Governor LePage introduced the bill, which was sponsored by Rep. Fredette.
"Maine has one of the highest concentrations of veterans of any state in America," said Assistant House Republican Leader Alex Willette of Mapleton. "We received countless calls and emails expressing shock and disappointment that Democrats would vote against our troops for no good reason. The most common message I got was that the Democrats' actions reminded people of the way our troops were treated when they returned from Vietnam. It really is disgraceful that it came to this."
In all, 20 House Democrats and liberal, unenrolled members flip-flopped, voting to accept the Education Committee's Minority Ought to Pass as Amended report on June 4 and then voting to reject enactment on July 9. They are as follows:
Janice Cooper of Yarmouth
Jennifer DeChant of Bath
James Dill of Old Town
Jeffrey Evangelos of Friendship
Lori Fowle of Vassalboro
Adam Goode of Bangor
Gay Grant of Gardiner
Erik Jorgensen of Portland
Chuck Kruger of Thomaston
Walter Kumiega of Deer Isle
Bruce MacDonald of Boothbay
Ann-Marie Mastraccio of Sanford
Andrew McLean of Gorham
Matthew Moonen of Portland
Catherine Nadeau of Winslow
Mary Nelson of Falmouth
Helen Rankin of Hiram
Margaret "Peggy" Rotundo of Lewiston
Linda Sanborn of Gorham
Ryan Tipping-Spitz of Orono
Maine House Republicans
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