GEORGETOWN

Georgetown selectman and Maine Senate candidate Rich Donaldson is under fire over several old social media posts that critics have called racist and homophobic. Donaldson is challenging incumbent Sen. Eloise Vitelli, D-Arrowsic, to represent Senate District 23, which includes Sagadahoc County and the town of Dresden.

The posts, most of which date back to 2016, feature images and jokes that mock Mexicans, gay people and prominent Democrats. A few of the posts show caricatures of a Mexican in a sombrero captioned with puns mocking the Spanish language and accents. Other posts denigrate House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

The posts were first revealed by Robert Chapman of Augusta, who has exposed a number of offensive social media posts made by Maine candidates under his Twitter persona “Darth Mueller,” that went on to be highlighted by The Maine Beacon, an online publication of the liberal Maine People’s Alliance.

According to Donaldson, the posts were never meant to be public and were only ever intended to be private jokes shared with friends and family.

“My private Facebook posts with my friends and family and my Navy buddies I expected would be private,” said Donaldson.

Chapman disagrees.

“There is an extra layer of scrutiny when you are running for elected office,” Chapman said. “What you say and share is insight into who you are.”

Donaldson, a veteran who retired as a lieutenant commander after 30 years in the Navy, claimed the posts stem from a unique sense of humor that comes from serving in the armed forces.

“I don’t want to say we have a warped sense of humor, but the mission that our armed forces do makes us a little more thickskinned about things that a civilian might find insensitive,” said Donaldson. “It was never my intention to embarrass anyone or to upset anyone. Poke fun at someone? Absolutely. I mean, it’s what sailors and Marines do.”

For example, Donaldson explained that one post critics have called homophobic — which features a photo of shirtless men kissing and dancing with the caption “Man the AO’s are really celebrating the return of IYAOYAS” — was meant to poke fun at aviation ordnance men, and was not intended to be homophobic. Yet, the joke appears to be that aviation ordnance men are gay.

Military humor

The Mid-Coast Veterans’ Council Director Richard Mears took issue with Donaldson’s claim that the posts reflect a style of humor common in the military.

“I don’t see them as being terribly funny, and I don’t necessarily see them as being what I would consider a universal sense of military humor,” said Mears. “I wouldn’t want them to be attributed to a military veteran or to me.”

A request for comment to the Maine Democratic Party was not returned, though Executive Director of the Maine Senate Democratic Campaign Committee BJ McCollister called some of the posts racist on Twitter. The Maine Republican Party also did not respond to a request for comment.

While he denied that his posts were racist or homophobic, Donaldson acknowledged that others could find them insensitive.

“For someone seeing the posts that consider them insensitive — I could see that,” he admitted.

But Donaldson maintains that the posts were the result of good-natured ribbing between friends.

“I do have great friends who are Mexican, and I was directing those posts at them,” said Donaldson. “That someone else took offense, I can’t control that.”

Donaldson also called back a day after the interview to add that his children are “half-Asian.”

“I don’t know if it mitigates it or not,” he said, adding that his children coud be seen as “one more example” that calling him a racist “might not be an accurate representation.”

Donaldson is hardly the first local politician to find himself in mired in controversy because of a social media post.

In June, Waterville Mayor Nick Isgro survived a recall effort by 91 votes after he mocked Parkland, Florida, high school shooting survivor David Hogg on Twitter.

In 2015, state Rep. Jeffrey Pierce, R-Dresden, was criticized for sharing a Facebook post outlining terrorist acts perpetrated by Islamic extremists that included the statement “it’s time to deport all Muslims.”

Candidate Donaldson

Donaldson’s campaign Facebook page has been meme-free and has a decidedly different focus than his previous, private posts.

Originally from Connecticut, Donaldson has lived in Maine for nearly three decades.

“I joined the Navy in 1983,” said Donaldson. “I came to Brunswick in 1989 and moved to Georgetown.”

Donaldson has lived in Georgetown since then, with the exception of several stints overseas, including his final assignment in Atsugi, Japan. He retired in 2014 as a lieutenant commander.

Though Donaldson had no plans to work in government after retirement, when he learned of the need in Georgetown for residents to volunteer to serve on committees, he joined the planning board. Within a year, he was named chair.

“They said there was a huge need for people on boards and committees in the town, so I jumped on the planning board,” said Donaldson.

Within six months Donaldson became the vice-chair of the board, and six months after that he became the chair. Donaldson filed papers to run for the board of selectmen in case no one else did earlier this year. No one else filed, and Donaldson was elected this summer.

Now Donaldson is running for the state Senate with a campaign focused on civility.

“I’m tired of the bickering of politics — name calling, finger pointing. We need to work together,” said Donaldson. “Civil discourse is what it’s all about.”

Donaldson said that if elected, he’s ready to work with anyone regardless of position or party. As far as issues go, Donaldson explained that he’s interested in promoting vocational training and implementing common sense regulatory reform.

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