Supporting those who have fought for our country must be a clear priority for policymakers. The Commission to Strengthen and Align the Services Provided to Maine’s Veterans released a report in January outlining necessary improvements to help Maine’s veterans.

The report led to the introduction of four bills, LDs 1602, 1611, 1612 and 1625, championed by local State Rep. Jared Golden, that are currently moving through the Legislature with broad, bipartisan support. All four have received unanimous approval from the policy committees that reviewed them.

Collectively, those bills address homelessness among veterans, provide increased resources to the state’s Bureau of Veterans Services, and lay the foundation for developing policies and programs to assist veterans facing transportation barriers or pursuing educational opportunities at our state universities and community colleges. Acting on those bills now is a vote for veterans.

Due primarily to the efforts of development lobbyists in Augusta, the future of services for veterans is now being connected to a bill that would expand the number of casinos in Maine, setting up a false choice that I find offensive. A vote against another casino in Southern Maine is not a vote against veterans.

That bill, LD 1280, would put the important needs of veterans on hold for years as we wait for funding linked to the approval and construction of a new casino. All this does is hurt Maine, hurt veterans and put real jobs at risk. We shouldn’t be gambling with the fate of our veterans.

As has always been done, Maine voters should approve any new casino based upon the best interests of the state. But state assistance to veterans should be supported through clean legislation that is focused solely upon the best interests of veterans.

As a veteran, I don’t appreciate my service being used for the politics of gambling interests. Elected officials should acknowledge veterans’ service with a focused and intentional debate that is free of potentially controversial proposals that have nothing to do with veterans.

I do not support the premise that a vote against a casino is a vote against veterans. It is simply not true.

If a vote against another Southern Maine casino can be equated to anything else, it would be a vote to protect jobs in rural Maine. Developing a third casino in Southern Maine will, without question, destroy jobs in rural Western Maine where they are arguably needed most.

Oxford Casino is already serving the Southern and Western Maine markets, with roughly 80 percent of visitors coming from Androscoggin, Oxford, Cumberland or York counties. They are providing a service to Southern Maine patrons while also providing a significant number of jobs for people who want to live and work in Western Maine.

They have also proven themselves to be a strong community partner and an active and engaged chamber member. They have created more than 400 good-paying jobs, not just in Western Maine, but also for those who live in the Lewiston-Auburn metropolitan area. Oxford Casino has made a true positive impact in our communities and we should do everything we can to allow that to continue in the future.

Let’s not put local jobs at risk.

I urge my state senator and representative to vote no on LD 1280, casino expansion, and yes on LDs 1602, 1611, 1612 and 1625, legislation that supports veterans.

Matt Leonard is the president and CEO of the Lewiston Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce.He is a multi-tour combat veteran and served in the U.S. Navy for 21 years.


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