In a move that seemed to surprise many members of Maine’s Republican Party, a group of tea party-style activists redefined the party platform at the convention Saturday.
After the vote, in which a vocal majority supported a wholesale replacement of language worked on by the party establishment since at least January, a string of delegates congratulated Horatio “Ted” Cowan III, a retired marine electrician from Rockland who wrote the adopted amendment.
“This is the first Republican organization to get realigned back to constitutional conservative values,” said Blaine Richardson. “To me, as Maine goes, so goes the rest of the nation. With the national Tea Party Movement, more states will follow Maine’s lead.”
Rep. Stacey Fitts, an incumbent Republican from Pittsfield, made a failed motion to stop the reading of the amendment because, he said, a debate on the platform would take time away from the gubernatorial candidates. The crowd booed his motion.
One delegate from Portland, Robert Hains, used the phrase “political suicide” while the amendment was being voted on.
“I believe that there are provisions in there that will scare off many independents who you need to win elections,” he said afterward. “It will make it very difficult for the majority of Republicans to win.”
The movement to introduce the fundamentalist platform, which now officially states the party’s priority as pledging allegiance “not to a political party, but to the Constitution of the State of Maine and the Constitution of the United States of America,” began about 18 months ago when Cowan and other members of the Knox County Republican Committee began drafting a version of the platform.
Cowan said a draft of the platform was presented to a subcommittee of the State Republican Committee charged with drafting an official version of the platform for convention review. It was rebuffed, Cowan said.
Senate Minority Leader Kevin Raye, R-Perry, who was at the January meeting, said Saturday that he did not recall the draft being presented to the committee, and said he first learned about it at the convention.
One highlight of the official platform that was adopted maintains that “state sovereignty must be regained and retained on all issues specifically relegated to the states by the Constitution.”
Cowan said that this referred primarily to state mandates under the national health care plan approved this spring.
Other elements of the state Republican platform include several initiatives that could only be pursued at the federal level, including imposing congressional term limits — apparently a veiled jab at Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, who gave a keynote address at the convention.
When asked about the evident rise of the Tea Party Movement in Maine, Snowe said that it was important for the state’s Republican Party to work together.
“People are angry, and understandably so,” she said. “The question is how do you channel that anger to be effective and successful at the polls?”
Snowe and other veteran Republicans at the convention said that the platform itself did not drive campaigns and instead represented a set of values and principles that candidates could pick and choose from.
“Nobody is going to agree chapter and verse with the party platform,” Snowe said.
The official platform includes lines that encourage the party to “discard political correctness,” “seal the border and protect U.S. citizens along the border and everywhere,” pass and implement a bill introduced by Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, intending to end the Federal Reserve, “defeat Cap and Trade (sic),” “clarify that health care is not a right,” and “repeal and prohibit any participation in efforts to create a one world government.”
The platform also states the party will support an initiative to legally require lawmakers to read all bills before them in the Legislature.
Ironically, many delegates, lawmakers and at least one gubernatorial candidate said they had not read the amendment before it appeared on screen and was voted on, although Cowan said that he provided convention organizers with a copy of the amendment Friday morning.