AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage said he was "shocked" by the comments of a state lawmaker from Jay on Tuesday.
In a news release issued late Tuesday, LePage said he was "saddened and disappointed" by the comments from state Rep. Paul Gilbert, D-Jay, regarding Christopher Pierce's status as a veteran.
Pierce, of Cumberland, is LePage's nominee to serve on the Finance Authority of Maine's board of directors and was before the Legislature's Committee on Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development, a panel Gilbert serves on.
The Legislature is in the process of confirming more than 70 LePage nominees this week.
According to a release from LePage's office, Gilbert questioned whether Pierce, who served with the Maine National Guard in the 1970s, with one year of active duty, was eligible as a veteran to serve on board.
"The National Guard in the '70s was not considered qualification for veteran’s status," Gilbert said. "I didn’t realize you were being put on there as a veteran. I think your credentials are great, but to fill a seat to be occupied by a veteran — that’s questionable.”
Anyone who served in the armed services and was not given a dishonorable discharge is considered a, "veteran" under Maine law, LePage said in his statement.
“I am deeply disappointed by this comment,” LePage said. “All of our military service members are valued and should be recognized for their dedication to service."
LePage suggested Gilbert needed a lesson, "on the freedoms we all share and how they came to be; it is because of the selflessness of our veterans from the past and present, that we enjoy these freedoms."
Reached by phone Tuesday night, Gilbert said he meant no disrespect toward Pierce but believes the spot, one of two on the FAME board, is reserved for a veteran.
Gilbert is a veteran of the U.S. Army and served from 1965 to 1968, including a tour of duty in Panama. Gilbert also said during his career with the Maine Department of Labor's CareerCenter in Lewiston he often helped veterans find work or retraining and that he was recognized by the department for doing so.
"I don't see how anybody could say I was disrespectful to veterans," Gilbert said.
Gilbert said he was a lifetime member of both the American Veterans and American Legion.
Gilbert said Pierce's credentials were excellent and he only voted against him because he believed the spot on the FAME board should have gone to a veteran as it is defined by the state's Veterans' Administration and the Department of Labor.
To be eligible for veteran's status with the VA or the DOL a veteran must have served more than 180 days on active duty, excluding training and drill, Gilbert said.
"It seems as though they could have found somebody that was really qualified," Gilbert said. "There is a reason that it states a veteran is to sit on that board. This has nothing to do with Mr. Pierce's qualifications."
The committee voted 7-3 Tuesday to confirm Pierce. The full Senate is expected to vote on the nomination Thursday.