Chris Clarke, left, holds a sign while picketing across from Hallowell City Hall on July 13 to protest comments Rep. Charlotte Warren, D-Hallowell, posted on social media. Warren, the co-chairperson of the Criminal Justice Committee, wrote that “Straight white men are too emotional to be in politics” in a July 1 Facebook page comment. “Dear white men who are feeling the need to complain about my comments: Check your priviledge [sic], your emotions, and be prepared for your comments to be deleted. Because, ‘Merica, free speech, and all that jazz.” A search for the Facebook page indicates it cannot be found. Clarke said he felt compelled to protest Warren’s “racist and bigoted” comments, which he asserted amounted to a hate crime against white men. “We want hate to be gone from politics,” he claimed. About a half dozen people held signs for an hour until a rainstorm passed through. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

AUGUSTA — For Chris Clarke, a comment made by Rep. Charlotte Warren on her Facebook page earlier this month crossed a line.

For three weeks, the Skowhegan resident has been holding protests — including one on Monday at the State House — and calling on Warren to resign for making what he considers a racist and bigoted comment.

The post, which Clarke posted as a screenshot on the “Resign Charlotte Warren” Facebook page, reads:

“After 20 years in politics, I’ve arrived at the following conclusion: Straight white men are too emotional to be in politics. Consider this a call to action to all my queers and gal pals! Dear white men who are feeling the need to complain about my comments: Check your priviledge (sic) your emotions, and be prepared for your comments to be deleted. Because, ‘Merica, free speech and all that jazz. #EffectiveGovernmentRequiresGrownPeople #CanWeGetSomeTherapistsUpInHere #DontShootTheMessenger”

An image of a Facebook post attributed to Rep. Charlotte Warren is the cover photo for the “Resign Charlotte Warren” Facebook group created by Chris Clarke.

Warren, a Democrat who is serving her fourth term in the State House, represents Hallowell — where she lives — Manchester and West Gardiner. She currently serves as the House chairwoman of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee. Under term limits, she cannot run again for that seat. Before moving to state politics, she served 12 years on the Hallowell City Council, including four years as mayor.

“I put politics aside. This isn’t an issue about whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican,” Clarke said Tuesday, noting that he’s a Republican. “It’s an issue about divisiveness and identity politics. In the state of Maine, we’ve always been a leader on a lot of things, and this just does not scream leader to us. It screams I hate you, you hate me, we hate each other and were never going to get anything done.”

Warren’s comment, he said, is racist and bigoted because she singled out a portion of the community and her colleagues.

“If I were to say gay, white females have no place in the Legislature, there would be a huge uproar,” Clarke said.

Warren, who has since taken down her Facebook page, has not responded to requests for comment. Clarke also was critical of her taking down her page.

Jackie Merrill, communications director for the House Democratic Office, said Warren is not going to provide a comment on the matter.

It’s not clear what prompted Warren’s comment, and Clarke said he doesn’t know what it refers to. When asked if she or Warren would provide the context, Merrill said Warren would not be commenting.

The issue surfaced Monday on the final day of the legislative session, when the House debated an order to require disciplinary action against Warren because of the insult to the white men in the Legislature.

Rep. Joel Stetkis of Canaan, assistant House Republican leader, argued that Warren should be removed from her committee assignments and leadership roles based on her comments.

“I fear that if nothing of real consequence is done in this matter, the message being sent by you erodes the public’s trust in this entire body,” Stetkis, who represents part of Somerset County, said. “See something, say something. We all saw something, a derogatory and insensitive comment directed at a specific race, gender and sexual orientation.”

But not all legislators agreed.

House Minority Leader Kathleen Dillingham, who represents Oxford, spoke out for a motion to indefinitely postpone the proposed order.

“I I think we could go through a litany of history of issues that have happened on social media or has have been said elsewhere,” Dillingham said. “I’ve always ardently defended the ability for those members to express their beliefs. With (Warren) her expression was that she has come to this conclusion, meaning this is her personal belief. I don’t agree with it. I don’t condone what she said, but I support her right to have that personal belief for whatever reason she may have.”

If lawmakers start censoring personal beliefs in the House of Representatives and removing people from their committees, Dillingham said, no one would be left to serve.

Lawmakers voted 105 to 21 in a roll call vote to indefinitely postpone the matter.

In addition to the protest at the State House, Clarke said he has protested twice in Hallowell on July 6 and 13. He also formed the “Resign Charlotte Warren” Facebook group that has drawn 144 members, most from across Maine.

Clarke said his event Monday drew 10 people, which was fewer than he’d hoped for.

The former member of the Augusta school board has had his own experiences with social media in a public forum.

In 2019, Clarke was censured by his fellow school board members for disclosing on Facebook information on contract negotiations that was was discussed in executive session. In 2020, he was critical of and outspoken against the school district’s policies on coronavirus safety regulations. At that time, he had both personal Facebook page and one for his campaign to be school board chairman.

“As a citizen, I have every right to criticize the school district in any way necessary,” Clarke said. “I voted against the social media policy.”

However, records show that he did, in fact, vote for the social media contract at the Nov. 13, 2019, meeting, months after he was censured for his social media posts.

Clarke said he was told by a former Augusta clerk that he could not take down his Facebook page for three years after he left the school board because it was a public forum.

Suzanne Gresser, executive director of the Maine State Legislature, said she’s unaware of any policy to treat Facebook posts as part of the Legislature’s records retention policy or any prohibition against removing Facebook posts.

Clarke said he doesn’t disagree with Warren’s right to say what she said under the First Amendment.

“No, you’re not barred from saying that, although I see it as racist and bigoted and hate speech,” he said. “You can’t hold a leadership position and have that kind of bias and expect people to work nicely with you.”

Clarke said the protests aren’t done. If the Legislature were to come back for a special session over the summer, he said, he’ll return. And he’s likely to do one or two a month to keep awareness of the issue before the public.

“If we have to wait until January, we’ll wait until January,” Clarke said, “but it’s not going to go away.”

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