The embattled state senator whose Facebook post implied that President Obama’s family is related to the terrorist group Islamic State has stepped down as co-chairman of a legislative committee.

Sen. Michael Willette, R-Presque Isle, told the Portland Press Herald that he submitted his letter of resignation as Senate chairman of the State and Local Government Committee to Senate President Michael Thibodeau on Wednesday morning.

“It was just one of those things that I thought I needed to do,” Willette said.

Thibodeau, in a statement, accepted Willette’s resignation.

“I accept his decision and commend him for putting the interests of the Legislature before his own in order to turn the page on this matter and allow all of us to get back to work on the business of the Maine Senate,” said Thibodeau, R-Winterport.

Willette has been under fire since his March 1 Facebook post of an item that criticized Obama’s handling of the terrorist group ISIS, or Islamic State, and said that Obama would deal with the group at “the family reunion.” Other, previous posts by Willette were found that included comments and memes about Muslims and immigrants that have been criticized as racist, bigoted and xenophobic.


Willette apologized for the posts during a brief speech from the Senate floor two weeks ago. However, Thibodeau has been under pressure to consider additional sanctions, including censure and removing Willette as chairman of the State and Local Government Committee. After Wednesday’s Senate session, Thibodeau said Willette’s resignation was voluntary. He would not say whether he would have pressured the senator to give up his chairmanship if Willette had not done so voluntarily.

“There’s been a lot of energy and a lot of time spent talking about this issue, and ideally we’re here to talk about moving Maine forward and our budget and a host of other issues,” he said. “Sen. Willette recognized that maybe it’s time to turn the page.”

On Friday, Rachel Talbot Ross, president of the NAACP’s Portland chapter, held a news conference to say that Thibodeau should consider additional sanctions against Willette, including temporarily removing him as chairman of a legislative committee or ratifying a joint sentiment by the Senate condemning his remarks.

“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 has condemned the remarks and said that he’s been willing to discuss the issue further with Talbot Ross. However, he has criticized Democrats for politicizing the controversy and using a petition drive calling for Willette’s resignation to raise funds. Since then, Thibodeau has been under continued pressure from both Democrats and Republicans. State senators from both parties are also considering a legislative sentiment, or Senate order, on race, religion and immigration.

Thibodeau confirmed that such a sentiment was in the works. He also said that the Senate would work to develop code of conduct rules and training for senators using social media.

Talbot Ross said in an emailed statement that the NAACP has requested a meeting with Senate leadership to continue to address the impact of race in public policy. “We believe this situation is merely symptomatic of the underlying problem of institutional racism,” the statement said.

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