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Maine Gov Meets with Guard Head About Future of Force

Gov. Paul LePage met today with Brig. Gen. James Campbell, the leader of the Maine National Guard, to discuss contingency plans to meet proposed cuts in the size of the National Guard across the country. LePage defends Campbell, and says the issue has, unfortunately, become politicized. But an email from Campbell to staff of Maine's congressional delegation indicates Campbell wants basic changes in the guard, whether or not those cuts come to fruition.

Gov. LePage says he and Gen. Campbell met to go over plans that have been developed, and to discuss the public controversy that has occurred in recent days. The governor says he opposes the effort to reduce the size of the National Guard in Maine and the rest of the country, and specifically opposes the possible move of the 133rd Engineer Battalion to another state in exchange for an infantry unit.

"Unfortunately the general is pretty na?ve about politics," Lepage says. "And he tried to contact the congressional delegation and they chose to make this political. The general has not done a thing - anything - nor have I done anything that we are not being directed to do from the federal government."

LePage blames Congresswoman Chellie Pingree and his Democratic election opponent, Congressman Mike Michaud, for politicizing the issue.

Congresswoman Pingree declined to be interviewed on the allegation, but her office released an email from Gen. Campbell to the state's congressional delegation in which Campbell writes, "It is highly likely at this point that we will seek to make a change with another state, regardless of whether or not the cuts we are fighting against actually happen."

That messaging runs contrary to the governor's comments following his meeting with Gen. Campbell.

"The general and I are fighting not to reduce the National Guard in the state of Maine because we believe it has already been reduced once before - after World War II, in fact," LePage says. "We believe we need the force we have now."

In a statement, Congressman Michaud says he has tried to avoid commenting on what he calls an apparent miscommunication between the governor and the general. He says the governor's attack on him for politicizing the issue is baseless.

Gov. LePage says all of the nation's governors are opposed to the reduction in the size of the National Guard being pushed by military leaders, and have sent letters to President Obama opposing the move. The governor says he is planning to discuss the issue with the chief of the National Guard Bureau, Gen. Frank Grass, to underscore his opposition to cuts and to the realignment of units.

And he acknowledges the controversy has caused morale problems that he and Gen. Campbell will seek to address at a meeting with guardsmen and women.

"After I speak to the general, I will be inviting all guard to come if they are interested, and we're going to have an open dialogue about it," LePage says.

Gen. Campbell referred all comment to the governor's office.

Journalist Mal Leary spearheads Maine Public's news coverage of politics and government and is based at the State House.