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, a Republican, is challenging incumbent Sen. Eloise Vitelli, D-Arrowsic, to represent Senate District 23, which includes all of Sagadahoc County and the town of Dresden in Lincoln County.

The posts, most of which date 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 U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi 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,” Donaldson said.

Chapman said that’s no defense.

“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 thick-skinned about things that a civilian might find insensitive,” Donaldson said. “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.”

Richard Mears, director of the Mid-Coast Veterans’ Council, 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,” Mears said. “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 the Maine Senate Democratic Campaign Committee’s executive director, B.J. 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 said.

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,” he said. “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 could be seen as “one more example” of why 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, a Republican from 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.”

Donaldson’s campaign Facebook page has a decidedly different focus than his previous, private posts. And he said he running for the Senate with a campaign focused on civility.

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

Nathan Strout can be contacted at:

[email protected]

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