LePage says no decision yet on National Guard

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AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) - Gov. Paul LePage criticized Democrats on Thursday, saying they have mischaracterized and politicized the possible relocation of the Maine Army National Guard's 133rd Engineer Battalion.

After a meeting with the adjunct general, Brig. General James Campbell, to discuss the federal government’s proposal to reduce guard units across the country, LePage accused Democrats of attempting to make the possible changes a campaign issue and pledged that no decision will be made for several years.

“It is shameful they would use the Maine National Guard members as pawns in their election-year tactics,” he said in a statement. “I will say it again: While I am Commander-in-Chief, I will not do anything to harm the dedicated men and women of the Maine National Guard.”

LePage also blamed the media for characterizing the change as a done-deal.

Last month, The Portland Press Herald reported that the National Guard was nearing the final stages of a plan to send the battalion to Pennsylvania and replace it with an infantry unit. It said the reorganization would reduce the overall number of soldiers, currently at about 2,100.

In an email to Maine’s congressional delegation last month, Campbell said that it was “highly likely” that it will “seek to make a change with another state, regardless of whether or not the cuts we are fighting against actually happen.”

Campbell said that the state had been discussing the swap with other states for some time and told lawmakers an infantry unit would be more flexible for state and federal missions.

The email was provided to The Associated Press from Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree’s office Thursday. A spokesman with the Maine National Guard didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Pingree spokesman Willy Ritch disputed LePage’s claim that her office initially leaked the possible switch to an infantry unit to reporters and agreed that relocating the battalion is an issue that shouldn’t be politicized.

“I’m sure those Guard personnel who contacted us will be relieved to hear that there is no change and that the Governor will fight to keep the 133rd in Maine,” Ritch said in email.

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