House Republicans elected Ken Fredette to be their leader Wednesday after he promised to reach out to constituent groups like women and young people whose votes had put the Democrats back in power in Augusta.
That’s a positive message and Maine will benefit if both parties compete for the same votes. But if they really mean it, Maine Republicans should take a stronger stand against their party chairman, Charlie Webster.
In a rambling post-election television interview, Webster completely undercut Fredette’s attempt to reach out.
The chairman made the outrageous claim that hundreds of unknown “black people” arrived in rural Maine towns on Election Day, tipping the election for Democrats.
He would not identify the towns where this is alleged to have occurred, or provide any corroborating witnesses. The Secretary of State’s Office never heard of it, and neither has the state’s municipal clerks association.
Webster says his comments were not based on bias and he produced an apologetic written statement Thursday. But he’s still done injury to all Mainers of color and an apology should not be enough.
By identifying the mystery voters as black, Webster insinuated two things: One is that everyone can tell by their skin color how they will vote. The other is that their presence in rural Maine is suspicious. Both allegations are insulting and could make minority voters feel uncomfortable about going to the polls, worrying that their white neighbors agree with Webster.
The fact that his allegation is preposterous — hundreds of voters that only he can see — doesn’t make it any less offensive. Every day that goes by with him still representing Maine Republicans reflects badly on the party.
Other Republicans should also speak out. Webster is not some loud-mouth in a diner. He is the elected chairman of a state party.
Even though he only has a few weeks left in his term, that should be a few weeks too many for party members who claim they want to broaden their message.
Republican operative Lance Dutson called for Webster’s immediate resignation Thursday, and every Republican from the governor down to the lowest office holder should join him. Anything less signals a tolerance for Webster’s intolerant words.
If the party really wants to reach out to the people who voted against their candidates this fall, now is its chance.