Maine Republicans took the national stage once again last week, continuing their weeks-long descent to the rarest depth of notoriety. This time, it was GOP State House candidate Les Gibson who put the Pine Tree State on the map. In the aftermath of the tragic school shootings in Parkland, Florida, Gibson took to the internet to viciously attack the teenage survivors, referring to one young lady as a “skinhead lesbian,” and calling another a liar. Gibson’s words sparked national outrage, and the media firestorm culminated in Gibson quitting the race after Democrats quickly recruited a candidate and adeptly leveraged the controversy to raise $130,000 to oppose him.
When it comes to foolish controversy, Maine Republicans keep outdoing themselves. Last week news broke that another GOP candidate for the Maine House, Bevelyn Beatty, is now facing assault charges after a video showed her punching another woman repeatedly at a nightclub in Bangor. And, of course, the governor made a splash when he decided to physically push an obnoxious blogger out of the press gaggle because he didn’t like what she was eating for lunch.
It’s one ridiculous story after another. The party of Margaret Chase Smith, Bill Cohen, Olympia Snowe, and Susan Collins has become the punchline of a very dark joke, one layered with incompetence, anger, and bigotry. The Maine GOP was once a national example of effective and reasonable leadership. Now it’s been invaded and infected by an outspoken legion of LePage cultists who won’t stop till they’ve bled every bit of credibility from the party’s nobler past.
Despite the increasing pace of outrageous controversy, or perhaps because of it, there are signs that mainstream Republicans are finally gaining the courage to push back. While the state party put out a ridiculous email claiming the Gibson controversy was a story “created” by the left-wing media, some prominent Republicans voiced a different perspective.
The assistant majority leader of the Maine Senate, GOP Sen. Amy Volk, posted a thoughtful response to the Gibson situation on Facebook, and called for the end of his candidacy. “Respect and kindness are so important, whether we are working with each other in the #MaineLegislature, interacting with constituents or discussing national issues. This man, who has attacked me on social media, shouldn’t be running for office.”
Republican state Rep. Bruce Bickford echoed Volk’s sentiments through a Facebook post of his own. “This type of behavior is not an example of the Republican Party. I cannot and will not support this person! So Sad!!”
Gibson then faced a primary challenge from former GOP state Sen. Tom Martin. Martin cited Gibson’s awful statements as his motivation for getting in the race. According to the Lewiston Sun Journal, Martin told them “people have to realize “that our words and actions have consequences,” so it’s necessary to carry on a civil debate even on the most divisive issues.”
Martin’s bold stand no doubt led to Gibson dropping out of the race, proving instantly how impactful a few strong voices can be when facing the kind of insanity that’s gripped the Maine GOP lately.
The increased willingness to speak out against the disgusting behavior of fellow Republicans shouldn’t be such a marvel to behold. But alas it is. Over the last seven years, the governor and his embeds at the state party have plumbed the depths of unacceptable behavior, with very little pushback from prominent Republicans. This silence has allowed the Maine Republican Party to become a more welcome place for people like Gibson than for people like Margaret Chase Smith.
It’s important to note that the Maine Republican Party recruited Gibson to be a candidate, despite his years-long record of malicious hate-spewing on the internet. The people in charge of the Maine GOP looked at Gibson and thought,”This guy will fit in just fine.”
From defending accused wife beaters to getting caught in lies about fake websites to recruiting Gibson and his ilk to run for office, there is a moral corruption at the center of the Maine GOP right now.
For the party to survive, this has to change.
The Republican Party is nothing without an ethical backbone, and unless more people follow the example of Volk, Bickford, and Martin, this party is going to become nothing but a bus station full of angry misfits.
People like Gibson should not feel welcome in the party of Abraham Lincoln. Republicans should not fear reprisal if they stand up for basic decency. The moral code of the Maine Republican Party needs to be reconstituted to allow for the participation of decent Mainers, to repel corruption, and to protect against the base malice that drives the current party leadership.