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Monday, July 03, 2006

Maine Democratic Lawmakers Form Coalition against Iraq War

AUGUSTA - Determined to take a stand for Maine veterans and taxpayers, a 25-member coalition of Democratic lawmakers vowed Thursday to launch a spirited campaign aimed at ending the war in Iraq "as safely and efficiently as possible."

Senate Majority Leader Michael Brennan and House Majority Glenn Cummings, both Portland Democrats, told reporters the newly formed group's primary goals were to:

Educate the public on how the cost of the war is diminishing Maine's ability to adequately fund its health care, veteran services, education, transportation and homeland security needs.
Inform the state's congressional delegation on how the costs of the war are impacting Maine and urge their support in ending the conflict.
Develop a network of similar aligned legislative coalitions in other states.

___to read more...click on "Print Article and/or Read More" below >>>
CONTINUED...

"Almost $300 billion has been spent on the war in Iraq and Afghanistan," Brennan said. "The cost to Maine taxpayers is placed conservatively at about $850 million. As the result of that, it has clearly compromised our ability to invest in Maine's future."

Observing some have suggested that Maine lawmakers really have no role to play in the Iraq war debate, Brennan said the concerns expressed by lawmakers about the war's costs were no different than taxpayers questioning spending priorities at a town meeting. "And talking to our congressional delegation is no different than the school committee member or the city counselor who calls me every day to talk about the property tax, education funding or transportation funding," he said. "We clearly have a legitimate role to play in addressing this issue."

Brennan also encouraged Republicans who share the coalition's views to join the group in forming a bipartisan bloc to oppose the war. But the three-term senator, who is not seeking re-election, wasn't getting too many offers Thursday from the GOP.

"The Democrats are just trying to divert attention from their own failed policies and those of the Baldacci administration," said Senate Republican leader Paul Davis, of Sangerville. "Our problems here are 30 years in the making and totally unrelated to the war effort in Iraq. They continue to shift the focus away from themselves because they know they can't run on their record of fiscal recklessness."

In a prepared statement, House Republican leader Joshua Tardy, of Newport, pointed out the Democratic coalition offered no plan to end the conflict nor did the group endorse anyone else's plan to conclude the war. Citing a report released by the Federal Reserve, Tardy said only two states reported an economic decline last year - Maine and Louisiana.

"When only two states go backwards financially, it clearly shows the cost of the war is not to blame," Tardy said. "Louisiana, we know, got hit by Hurricane Katrina. Maine got hit by the Democrats."

Cummings said the Democratic majority in the Maine Legislature had a better record on the economy than anything the Bush administration has managed to produce over the last six years. In contrast to Maine's statutory spending caps, a $140 million surplus, the lowest bonded indebtedness of all but five states in the country, and a balanced budget, Cummings said national Republican leadership had racked up an "$8 trillion budget blowout" and a protracted war waged under questionable pretext and headed toward an uncertain outcome.

"As we look to the future with this spiraling federal deficit going unattended, we engage the war with no planned resolution and we see dark clouds looming on the horizon for the people of this state and we see a complete lack of federal action on growing domestic issues that are turning into crises," Cummings said.

Members of the coalition from the northern and eastern Maine area included Sen. Elizabeth Schneider, D-Orono; Rep. Hannah Pingree, D-North Haven; and Rep. Sean Faircloth, D-Bangor, who pointed out that Maine's 2nd Congressional District has one of the highest percentage of veterans of any district in the country. In siphoning off revenue that could have been used for social service programs and placing an emphasis on tax cuts for 'the richest 1 percent of our society," Faircloth said the White House had established a contradictory policy that slashes assistance for returning veterans of the war while increasing benefits for "the most elite in our society."

"What kind of a nation are we when the most elite - those who are born to wealth and never needed to work - do not share in the sacrifice?" he asked. "This goes entirely against the grain of everything that President Franklin Roosevelt led us to believe during World War II."

Brennan said the coalition was the first of its kind in the country and would hold other events in the future.

© 2006 Bangor Daily News

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