November 7, 2010

He's 'the man' behind GOP's election gains

By Susan M. Cover
State House Bureau

(Continued from page 1)

Charles Webster
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Charlie Webster, chairman of the Maine Republican Party, is credited by many for re-energizing the party just two years after Democrats had posted significant wins in 2008.

The Associated Press

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Charlie Webster, chairman of the Maine Republican Party, said he knew people were “angry” two years ago.

Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Webster ran for chairman on the heels of the 2008 vote with a plan to revive the party.

"Part of the problem was when you are unsuccessful for a long time, it's hard to get people to invest in you," he said.

A former Senate Republican leader, Webster called old friends to explain his vision -- and to ask for money.

He also seized an opportunity in the spring of 2009 when Democrats passed a tax overhaul that lowered the income tax, but expanded the sales tax to include more than 100 additional services. The plan also raised the meals-and-lodging tax, and the tax on car rentals in an effort to get tourists to carry more of the burden.

To Webster, the tax overhaul -- which was backed by only one Republican -- showed that Democrats were out of touch with most Mainers. The law, for instance, added taxes to car repairs, so Webster wrote letters to other small businesses warning them that Democrats might come after their businesses too.

He recalls talking with his wife about the law.

"I said I can't believe they are going to tax having your car repaired," he said. "Are they totally out of touch with what people want?"

He launched a people's veto petition drive, got the signatures and convinced voters to reject the law in June of this year.

Democrats who voted for it became prime targets. In some areas, Republican candidates also listed Democratic votes on gay marriage -- another law that was repealed by voters -- as more proof that their elected representatives weren't reflecting the wishes of their constituents.

Still, many felt the Maine House would be out of reach for Republicans this cycle, because of the Democrats' large 95-56 majority.

However, a coordinated effort that included Webster, Raye, Tardy and others led to major changes in the Legislature's make-up.

Gone are Democrats Sen. John Nutting of Leeds, Sen. Joe Perry of Bangor, Sen. Deb Simpson of Auburn, Rep. Lisa Miller of Somerville and Rep. Gary Connor of Kennebunk.

Raye, who was chosen Friday as Senate president, said Republicans took a "three-legged stool" approach with House, Senate and party leaders all working together.

"We had a very good relationship with the state party in terms of being energized," he said. "(Charlie's) been a strong and energetic chairman."

MaineToday Media State House Reporter Susan Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at:


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