As I conclude my service in the Maine State Legislature, I am writing this article as a conclusion of the decade of service. It is difficult to condense ten years into a few hundred words, but I will attempt to do that in the next few paragraphs.
First, I want to thank the people of Windham for allowing me the honor of representing you in the House for eight years and the people in Senate District 12 for that honor during the past two years. I have listened carefully to everyone who contacted me during my legislative service and attempted to treat everyone with respect. My votes were always based on what I believe to be the views of the majority of constituents.
Although there will always be more to be done, I am proud of what we have accomplished during my tenure in the legislature. I was pleased to stand with Emily Cain, Ken Fredette and Governor LePage to announce the progress that we made in combating domestic violence. Although it was not fun, I was on the front lines of the improvements made to the sex offender laws. As a member of the Criminal Justice Committee, I was able to have great input in protecting Second Amendment rights. During the 125th legislative session, I was selected by leadership to be chair of the Criminal Justice Committee. Even though it was a great deal of extra work, serving as the leader of a committee that deals with prisons, jails, police, fire and other public safety issues was a duty I took very seriously.
I was also the lead cosponsor of the bill that keeps the names and personal information of people who have concealed firearms permits out of the newspaper. Although these issues may not have been the most important things that the legislature has dealt with, they do represent some of the issues that I had direct influence in shaping that eventually became law.
Generally, I am not big on “bringing home the bacon” to a legislator’s local community, because it tends to raise taxes for everyone. With that said, I am pleased that was able to help get the northern end of the River Road rebuilt and secure a commitment to also do the southern end of this road. Although no one person can take credit for this project, I credit Cheryl Page with bringing this issue to the forefront. Cheryl circulated a petition in favor of this project and collected several hundred signatures in just a few days. This helped the Windham legislative delegation to convince the Maine Department of Transportation that this project needed to be done.
Also during the last legislative session, we were able to convince the Maine Turnpike Authority to add the name “Windham” to the sign at Exit 63. This will not happen right away, but will be done when this sign is replaced as part of normal maintenance.
An issue that remains unresolved is the proposal to rebuild the Maine Correctional Center in Windham. Last winter I was able to bring officials from the Department of Corrections to Windham to present their plans. Unfortunately, their favored sites for construction were across Mallison Street from the current prison. These plans would have a very negative impact on existing residential neighborhoods. These neighbors were strongly opposed to these plans. We were told that the plan to build adjacent to the existing prison would be more difficult.
I called DOC officials the next morning and told them that unless they could build on the site adjacent to the current prison, I would oppose rebuilding MCC here in Windham. I was told that they heard the public at the meeting and they understood that without my support, they knew that there would be no new buildings. DOC is currently working on plans to do that.
I still have not formed an opinion on this project. It will be important for the new Windham legislative delegation to stay engaged on this issue. On the positive side, a newly constructed facility should be much safer and provide this area with stable jobs for many years to come. For me, one of the largest remaining concerns is funding. DOC believes that they can save enough money by closing other inefficient facilities to completely fund this project with money left over. They will need to show the legislature exactly how this can be done.
I would also like to mention the recent election. I have been criticized by some for my support of the Republican candidate in the Senate District 26 race. For the record, I also fully supported the Republican candidate in my House District. For me, this election was about giving voters a viable choice when they went to the polls. The Republican Party has fully supported me for all 14 elections where I was elected. I supported the Republican Party in this election.
During the election, I was contacted by a constituent and former student, who told me her husband, saw a TV commercial in which I appeared. After viewing the commercial, he said to her, “Gary must really dislike Bill Diamond.” She told me that what she saw was the same passion in the commercial that she saw when I was her sixth grade teacher.
For the record, I do not dislike Bill Diamond. Bill and I have been friends since we went to college together. I have worked on many projects and pieces of legislation with Bill. I feel badly that some of his supporters are still angry with me. In fact, some have refused to speak with me. From my perspective, the election is over and it is time to work together. I stand ready to work with Bill Diamond, Mark Bryant and Patrick Corey in any way that I can.
I close by again thanking people who have allowed me to represent you at the local, county and state level for the last few decades. It has been a great honor.