AUGUSTA — An NAACP leader on Friday continued to press Republican state Senate leaders to address what she described as racist and bigoted remarks by a senator from Presque Isle.

Rachel Talbot Ross, president of the NAACP’s Portland chapter, said that Senate President Michael Thibodeau should consider additional sanctions against Sen. Michael Willette, R-Presque Isle, including temporarily removing him as chairman of a legislative committee or ratifying a joint sentiment by the Senate condemning his remarks.

Willette made national news last week after sharing a Facebook post that said President Obama would deal with the terrorist group ISIS, or Islamic State, at “the family reunion.” Older posts containing xenophobic statements about Muslims and immigrants were later discovered.

Subjected to fierce criticism as media coverage of the posts grew, Willette apologized in a brief speech on the Senate floor.

Since then Democrats and the NAACP have called for formal sanctions, including a potential ethics investigation. Others have suggested censure, an act that has not happened in the Legislature since 2001. Talbot Ross, speaking at a State House news conference, said she and Thibodeau met in Portland a week ago Friday to discuss the matter, but he has refused to meet with her again if Democrats are present.

Talbot Ross argued that all of Senate leadership should be present to discuss a resolution that recognized the dangerous impact Willette’s comments could have. Flanked by Democratic legislators and Rachel Isaacs, a rabbi from Waterville, Talbot Ross said the Republican leader had not yet done enough.


“Looking the other way, staying silent, is easy,” she said. “But confronting and talking about the insidious nature of racism, bigotry and xenophobia, the fear of others, is a responsibility that we all share.”

Thibodeau declined to comment.

Jamie Carter, a spokeswoman for Senate Republicans, told reporters that Thibodeau would not participate in what he described as a highly partisan event. Carter noted that the Maine Democratic Party had launched a petition drive calling for Willette’s resignation and had used the controversy for political gain and for fundraising. She said Thibodeau and Willette would meet with Talbot Ross privately to discuss the issue. She said that Willette “does not have anything else to add” to the media.

“They’re not being genuine and that’s one of the reasons he (Thibodeau) does not want to meet in conjunction with Democratic leadership,” Carter said.

“He does not believe it would be a productive meeting with the Democrats there with how absolutely political and partisan they have made this issue.”

Sen. Justin Alfond, D-Portland, accused Thibodeau of blocking a resolution of the matter. “We need to move forward in a way that we can ensure the people of Maine have trust and faith in the Senate,” Alfond said.

Willette, a Presque Isle native and former Army medical specialist, apologized from the Senate floor last week.

He said he voted for Obama in 2008 and had been “profoundly disappointed by his performance and policies over the years. That frustration led me, against my better judgment, to make several criticisms of the president that were completely inappropriate.”

“I am as far from being a racist as you can get,” said Willette, who served in the Gulf War. “When I served in the military I had a vast array of friends. Any connotation to racism in those posts, if that is what it was construed to be, that is not the intent.”

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