Mark Willis, Republican National Committeeman for Maine, and 11 others have quit the party.
By Kevin Miller
WASHINGTON – One of Maine's three voting members of the Republican National Committee and six other members of the Maine State Republican Committee have resigned and left the party, lambasting Gov. Paul LePage, U.S. House Speaker John Boehner and other Republicans for abandoning what they said are key principles for libertarians and conservatives.
The seven party activists were among 12 people who wrote a scathing letter to a state Republican official Sunday listing their grievances.
They criticized Republican state lawmakers for supporting a budget containing tax increases, charged Boehner with "cowardly leadership" and said recent decisions by the LePage administration show that "the Republican Party has lost its way."
"(We) can no longer allow ourselves to be called nor enrolled as Republicans; we can no longer associate ourselves with a political party that goes out of its way to continually restrict our freedoms and liberties as well as reaching deeper and deeper into our wallets," reads the letter, signed by Maine Republican National Committeeman Mark Willis and 11 others. "We instead choose the path that focuses on ways to help our fellow Mainers outside of party politics."
The decision by Willis and the others to "unenroll" from the Maine Republican Party reflects continuing discord among Republicans in Maine and nationally as the party tries to rebuild after stinging losses in last year's elections.
The state party's new chairman, former state Sen. Rick Bennett, said Monday that he respects but regrets the 12 members' decision to drop their Republican affiliation.
"I regret losing them from the party, but our party remains a very broad party," said Bennett, who was elected as chairman last month and is one of three official representatives from Maine to the Republican National Committee.
The dozen disenchanted Republicans listed a litany of grievances in their letter to the secretary of the Maine Republican Party, Chuck Mahaleris, including:
• Anger over rule changes adopted during the Republican National Convention in Tampa last year.
• Congressional Republicans' support for the National Security Agency surveillance programs publicly revealed in recent months and for immigration reform, online-sales taxes and gun control.
• Maine Republican lawmakers' failure to block enactment of a state budget that includes tax increases.
• LePage's vetoes of several bills that were important to libertarians -- including those restricting the use of surveillance drones and allowing wider sales of raw milk – and the LePage administration's "atypical meddling in the business of the Maine State Committee."
LePage vetoed the state budget that the Legislature passed in June but was overridden.
The members of the Maine State Republican Committee who resigned are: Willis, of Washington County, and his wife, Violet; Thomas Barry of Androscoggin County; Ann-Marie Grimes Grenier of Cumberland County; Gregory Hodge of Lincoln County; Olga LaPlante of Cumberland County; and Russell Montgomery of Knox County.
The five other Republicans who said they are withdrawing from the party are: Sam Canders, Bryan Daugherty and Maria Hodge of Penobscot County; and Scott and Debbie D'Amboise of Androscoggin County.
Canders ran against Bennett for chairman of the Maine Republican Party last month and had the support of several of those who resigned Sunday.
Willis briefly challenged national party Chairman Reince Priebus for that post earlier this year. Scott D'Amboise ran for U.S. Senate last year.
There are conflicting views -- in Maine and nationally -- about the Republican attempts to be a "big tent" party able to grow with younger, more diverse voters.
Libertarian or "Liberty Movement" Republicans, representing a small but growing faction, have clashed with more mainstream "establishment" leaders since winning control of state parties in Maine and several other states last year. The discord has been pronounced in Maine, as shown by a high-profile internal fight that spilled onto the floor of the Republican National Convention last year and the recent resignations of the state party's two top officials.
National committee members from around the country gathered in Boston last weekend to discuss ways of broadening and strengthening the party before next year's gubernatorial and congressional elections. Yet the recent public spat between New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and libertarian favorite Sen. Rand Paul -- both likely presidential contenders -- underscored the internal divisions.
Priebus, speaking to ABC News on Sunday, portrayed it as "a healthy family debate."
But it's clear that Willis and others are still smarting over what happened at the Republican National Convention one year ago this month.
Coming into the convention, nearly all of Maine's elected delegates supported presidential candidate Ron Paul, the Texas congressman who had become the face of the party's libertarian movement. But after a protracted fight within the state party, national party leaders replaced half of the slate of Paul delegates from Maine with supporters of nominee Mitt Romney.
That ensured Maine would cast its official vote for Romney, but not before Maine's pro-Paul delegates -- joined by Paul supporters from other states -- waged a loud but short-lived fight on the convention floor.
The "Maine delegates" became the face of opposition to rules changes enacted at the convention that critics contend will weaken the influence of grass-roots activists at the national level and make it harder for upstart candidates like Paul to contend for the nomination.
Last weekend in Boston, the national committee soundly rejected a resolution sponsored by Willis and adopted by the Maine State Republican Committee to essentially nullify the 2012 rules.
Asked whether giving up his seat at the state and national levels is also giving up his voice, Willis replied: "That argument would only apply if your voice was being heard and you could actually make changes. It's very clear at the national level that our voices are not being heard."
Bennett respectfully disagreed.
"I found the energy coming from those aligned with the 'Liberty Movement' to be terrific," said Bennett, adding that the movement has helped draw more young people into the party. "I think all of that has been very good for our party."
Ashley Ryan, Maine's third representative to the Republican National Committee and a Paul supporter at the 2012 convention, also had a different take than Willis on the party's evolution.
Ryan could not be reached Monday but told Politico over the weekend that the co-chairwoman of the national committee, Sharon Day, had talked to her about bringing more women into the party.
Kevin Miller can be contacted at 317-6256 or at: email@example.comTweet