For the three Republicans eyeing Maine’s 2nd Congressional District seat this year, Monday’s protest in Augusta against the shutdown of many businesses in the state to thwart the spread of a potentially deadly disease posed a tough political question: Should they go?

Rather than attend a potentially risky public protest, Republican congressional candidate Adrienne Bennett of Bangor held a poster at home calling for reopening the state.Submitted photo

Auburn’s Eric Brakey opted to attend. Lisbon’s Dale Crafts, who uses a wheelchair to get around, said he would have gone but the specially equipped truck he requires was in the shop so he had to stay home.

But Bangor’s Adrienne Bennett decided to hold her own virtual protest instead.

“I have made the decision to participate in the protests virtually, using the megaphone of social media,” she declared, showing herself online holding a protest sign at home.

Her choice to hold a #REOPENMAINE sign without leaving her house drew attention on social media from many who insisted it captured the absurdity of seeking an end to public safety-driven restrictions while adhering to officials’ warnings to stay home.

Rank-and-file Republicans will choose in a July 14 primary which of the trio they want to represent the GOP in the November general election against first-term U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, a Lewiston Democrat.

Gov. Janet Mills, who was not present, shut down nonessential businesses last month in keeping with advice from public health experts.

She said recently that everyone wants to see “life to return to normal as soon as it is safe to do so. Our hearts break to see closed storefronts and people struggling to make ends meet because of this crisis.”

“At the same time,” Mills said, “we all know that reopening too soon and too aggressively will likely cause a secondary surge in COVID-19 cases, jeopardizing the lives of Maine people and further destabilizing the economy. ”

The governor said officials are planning to reopen the state in phases that take into account the demographic and economic realities of each part of Maine.

The noon protest calling for swifter action drew several hundred people to August to line sidewalks near the State House, some waving flags, others holding signs. Many cars driving by honked, perhaps part of a drive-by element of the gathering for those who didn’t want to risk standing alongside strangers.

Bennett said she supports “the right of the protesters to be there” but decided “not to attend in person because I am not confident that [Gov.] Janet Mills would handle the protests appropriately and I do not trust the media to cover the event appropriately.”

“I urge all Mainers to post photos of their own protest posters, and flood social media with the clear message that the time has come to reopen our economy, to reopen Maine,” Bennett said.

Crafts said that while he couldn’t attend the rally, he backs it.

Adrienne Bennett, left, Eric Brakey and Dale Crafts. File photos

“America is built on the greatest principle of all: freedom,” he said. “While we have all been impacted by COVID-19, we must remain diligent in our protection of freedom.”

Brakey said on a live Facebook video from the rally that the governor’s plan so far has no objective benchmarks to indicate when anything should reopen. It comes down to her own whims, he said.

Brakey said the  Legislature ought to meet and adopt a firm policy that lays out when and how everything can reopen. People can’t stay shuttered inside indefinitely, he said.

“Our government has held illegal closed-door meetings while keeping Maine people in the dark,” he said later. “The plan to reopen Maine should be public and centered around objective data, not the gut feeling of one person. Maine businesses have demonstrated they will rise to the occasion by implementing necessary precautions to beat coronavirus for good.”

Jay Allen, the Republicans’ 1st Congressional District candidate, also attended the rally.

Jay Allen Submitted photo

On his Facebook page, the New Harbor physician said it’s possible to protect public health while allowing the return of “some semblance of normality.”

“To date, the emphasis has been on risk avoidance by isolating at home,” Allen said. “However, risk mitigation strategies can allow us to reopen the economy while still protecting the most vulnerable” by keeping in place physical distancing rules and other measures, from face masks to more hand washing.

“Maine’s communities are built on the backs of small businesses that line our Main Streets,” Crafts said. “While the economy suffers, it is these entrepreneurs that have molded their business plans and used their reach to support their neighbors during these times.”

“If we do not act, how many of these businesses will permanently close their doors forever?” he asked.

“We absolutely need a plan to get people back to work safely, to protect jobs and preserve our economy, and we are not seeing enough forward-looking leadership in Augusta,” Bennett said.

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