AUGUSTA – Democrats in the Maine House of Representatives on Tuesday defeated a proposal that would have ensured the nation’s military recruiters unhampered access to Maine’s public schools.
Although Democratic critics of L.D. 1503 claimed that military recruiters’ access has not been limited, a top military official described the problem in detail in a May 22 email to Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen.
“In the Northern portion of the State we are very fortunate,” wrote Battalion Command Sergeant Major Richard L. Hannibal. “Almost all of the schools allow our recruiters full access.”
In predominantly liberal Southern Maine, however, Hannibal described recruiters’ access as “minimal.”
“That is, we are allowed into the school once, the school announces our visit a few days prior to the set date and [students] are told that if they would like to speak to a recruiter to sign up on XXX sheet. When the recruiter arrives, if any student has signed the roster, we get to meet with that student. If there are no students that signed up by the time we arrive, the school considers that our 1 visit and we are done for the year,” he wrote.
Hannibal lists the following schools as providing such subtly restricted access for military recruiters: Oak Hill HS, Noble HS, Wells HS, York HS, Kennebunk HS, Gorham HS, and Yarmouth HS.
Hannibal lists several other issues, in addition to restricted access, that hamper the military recruiters’ ability to interact with Maine students.
He wrote, “Several other issues that hinder us at individual high schools are the fact that we are not allowed to be in uniform, (Meaning we conduct our visit in civilian attire) or schools will send their master list of Junior and Senior students out to their home addresses with the instructions that if you would like your son or daughter removed from the list prior to this being sent out to the recruiters, please reply to that fact. In the end, when it comes time to send the list out, even if the school has not received a reply from parents, they still remove the name. This is prevalent in Portland and Yarmouth.”
Rep. Corey S. Wilson (R-Augusta), a Marine veteran who served two tours in Iraq from 2004 to 2006, read excerpts of the foregoing email on the House floor. He omitted the names of the schools because he felt it would be inappropriate.
“A number of Democrats stood up and said there was no proof. In the eleventh hour, I was given a copy of the email,” said Wilson. “I hoped that anyone who was inclined not to support the bill because of a lack of evidence would change their minds if provided with new information,” he said.
He was wrong.
After Wilson read parts of the email, Rep. Joshua R. Plante (D-Berwick) told the members of the House that the top military recruiter’s description of the problem was not truthful, though there seemed to be some confusion over who promulgated the list of problem schools.
“I said last night that [Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen] had lied, and I stand by that,” said Plante. “I felt it extremely unacceptable that anyone would go out there and make claims about things that are not being done,” he said.
He said that when the issue first came up he contacted the superintendent of MSAD 60 who informed him that Noble High School does not have any policy limiting military recruiters’ access or preventing them from wearing uniforms.
Hannibal declined to comment on this story. However, additional emails obtained by The Maine Wire through a public records request show that the highly decorated Hannibal singled out Noble High School as the most problematic school. In an email to Bowen, Hannibal wrote, “The most restrictive school I have is Noble HS which is one visit per year and that can just be showing up to check the display rack.”
“To call a Battalion Sargent Major a liar is completely wrong,” said Wilson, referring to Plante’s accusations. “A Battalion Sargent Major is a high ranking individual who believes in integrity first and foremost. He would not be inclined to fabricate a story — and for what purpose?”
According to his biography, Hannibal entered the armed services in 1983 and has received several dozen awards and decorations, including the Bronze Star and the Defense Meritorious Service Medal.
Loath to let the testimony of a highly decorated military official influence their votes, far left Democrats in House refused to support the proposal, which ultimately failed to garner two-thirds support required for passage. Republicans were especially surprised as 20 House Democrats reversed their earlier votes in order to defeat the legislation.
“I was completely shocked, incredibly frustrated, especially after two unanimous votes in the senate,” said Wilson.
“Even if you don’t believe there is a problem, there’s nothing wrong with setting a precedent,” he said. “We should be sending a message to our uniformed men and women that we appreciate and respect them.”
“There are a number of [Democrats] who just oppose the military,” said Wilson, adding that one of his Democratic colleagues said military recruiters subject students to intimidation. “It’s not intimidation. These recruiters are positive role models.”
Plante said that even if such a policy did exist, municipalities should be free to determine whether military recruiters, or any outside personnel, are allowed on campus.
Ironically, Plante, who believes schools should be allowed to restrict military recruiters uniformed access to schools, states on his official website that he “is focused on making Berwick, Lebanon and the entire state a safer… place to live.” (emphasis added)
Republican Gov. Paul LePage, in a Tuesday statement, called the House Democrats’ actions a “disgrace.”
“The American military uniform represents freedom, honor and integrity to millions around the world,” said LePage. “I am not surprised, but appalled that some Democrats in the Maine Legislature are playing a political game with the men and women in uniform who defend our country.”
“It is a disgrace they have denied our American heroes in uniform the opportunity to speak with Maine students,” he said.
“Their claim in blocking my bill was that there was no proof of a problem, despite the Maine National Guard’s recruiters repeatedly saying there are issues,” he said.
“For Democrats to call into question the word of our patriotic and principled service members is a slap in the face to Maine’s long and proud history of service to this country.”
Maine Wire Reporter