The Maine Republican Party is kicking off the TV ad campaigns in the state’s governor’s race Wednesday with a culture-war attack that criticizes Gov. Janet Mills’ administration for using tax dollars to create pro-LGBTQ lesson plans for kindergarten students.

The one-minute ad accuses Mills of spending $2.8 million to create a series of state Department of Education videos that teach “radical school lessons” such as same-sex relationships and transgender choices to children as young as kindergarten-age.

“Is this really what our kids should be learning in kindergarten instead of math, science and reading?” the narrator asks after a clip from a state education video is played. “Janet Mills’ radical agenda is just wrong for our kids and for Maine.”

The clip is from a much longer video, “Freedom Holidays,” that the state Department of Education recommends as a social studies, language arts, and life-and-career lesson plan to teach kindergarten students about three core vocabulary words: rights, history and government.

The lesson, which is narrated by a Whitefield elementary school teacher, explores four holidays that celebrate freedoms in the United States and touches on freedoms recently achieved by certain groups of Americans, including blacks, women and LGBTQ individuals.

The ad campaign will start running across multiple Maine-based TV and radio stations on Wednesday. Produced by a Virginia company, the ad buy – the first of at least $4 million the Maine Republican Party plans to run – cost about $94,000, campaign finance records show.

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Earlier this month, the Democratic Governors Association announced a $5 million TV campaign. The large fundraising totals so far – Mills has raised $2.7 million to date and former Gov. Paul LePage has raised $1.3 million – suggest this could become the most expensive governor’s race in Maine history.

Maine Republican Party leaders spent the weekend at the Democratic Party Convention in Bangor criticizing their rivals for trying to distract voters from important pocketbook issues, like rising gas and grocery prices, by focusing on emotional “culture war” issues such as abortion.

When asked why they chose to make their first TV ad about an emotional non-pocketbook issue, a Republican Party spokesman said: “Inflation and economy issues are so prominent in the news right now that nobody has to pay to get the message out. The news cycle and gas pump prices are convincing.”

The Maine Republican Party recently amended its platform to emphasize the need for Republican politicians to fight to keep same-sex marriage and transgender identity issues out of public schools. Some proposing these conservative amendments initially called out the “Freedom Holidays” video.

In contrast, Democrats enshrined LGBTQ rights in their platform over the weekend.

When asked about the ad, a Democratic Party spokesman had no specific comment, but pointed to the party plank addressing politics in the public schools: “Our students deserve an honest treatment of all subjects, with a curriculum guided by educators, not corrupted by political agendas rooted in prejudice.”

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A Mills spokeswoman didn’t return a Wednesday night email seeking a response to the ad, but earlier in the day, Mills herself took to Twitter to celebrate the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia & Biphobia with a tweet.

“Hate has no place in Maine. Our LGBTQ+ community deserves to live free from harm or discrimination,” Mills tweeted Tuesday. “I stand with you and will always support your right to be exactly who you are.”

The state Department of Education did not respond Tuesday to emailed questions about how these learning modules, initially created to help public school teachers reach remote-learning students during the COVID-19 pandemic, were commissioned or approved, or how many times they were put to use. However, the “Freedom Holidays” video was removed from the agency’s online archive of the modules after the email was sent.

The video was still available on YouTube, however, where it was posted by the Whitefield teacher who created it.

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