AUGUSTA, Maine — Most Republicans in the Maine House of Representatives on Tuesday opposed a resolution in support of Ukraine in its war with Russia in a signal of the growing partisan divide on key elements of U.S. foreign policy.
House Minority Leader Billy Bob Faulkingham, R-Winter Harbor, led a fight against the symbolic measure. In nearly an hour of debate, his members questioned the war’s value and the Legislature’s role, while a Democrat wondered aloud where the “patriotic right” was.
The Democratic-led chamber passed the sentiment in a 87-54 vote after Faulkingham failed in a last-ditch effort to kill the resolution. All but 11 Republicans voted against the measure, while all Democrats except for Rep. Sophie Warren of Scarborough backed it with nine members absent. It now goes to the Senate.
The resolution, sponsored by Rep. Rebecca Millett, says Russia under President Vladimir Putin illegally invaded Ukraine and is waging a “barbarous war” with global effects. It also voices support for the $75 billion to date in ongoing U.S. aid to Ukraine as well as economic sanctions on Russia.
It was that language went too far for many House Republicans. Some on the libertarian side of the party wondered if the U.S. support for Ukraine could lead to a wider war. Rep. Heidi Sampson, R-Alfred, said history has two sides, while Rep. Jim Thorne, R-Carmel, called Ukraine’s government “corrupt” and said the issue was outside the Legislature’s purview.
“I don’t tune into the local news to watch stories about [things] going on in New York and Pennsylvania. I’ll watch the national news for that,” he said. “Madam speaker, we have an obligation to serve the people of Maine.”
The arguments on the House floor matched the national tenor of debate around the war. Ukraine has a history of corruption, but the country has made strides in fighting it in recent years, according to the Kennan Institute of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, which studies the post-Soviet world.
Public sentiment ran fully in favor of Ukraine at the outset of the war last year. At that time, 74 percent of Americans said the level of U.S. aid was either not enough or about right, according to the Pew Research Center. That dipped to just over 50 percent in January, driven by a large drop from Republicans. In January, 40 percent of them thought there was too much aid.
Millett sponsored the measure to mark the one-year anniversary of the invasion. House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross and other top legislative Democrats co-sponsored it, as well as two Republicans: Assistant House Minority Leader Amy Arata of New Gloucester, and Sen. Brad Farrin of Norridgewock, who was the highest-ranking enlisted airman in the Maine Air National Guard.
Arata spoke in favor of the measure on the floor, centering her support on a desire for peace. Some Democrats seemed to tire of the long debate, with one Democrat questioning the patriotism of those on the other side of the issue.
“We are proudly the arsenal of democracy throughout the world, and I wonder what happened to the patriotic right that used to stand with us on those issues,” Rep. Dan Sayre of Kennebunk said.