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The inclusion of policies targeting LGBTQ people and “critical race theory” within the Maine GOP’s platform demonstrates local Republicans’ continued shift toward right-wing extremism as Maine barrels toward a high-stakes election in November, progressives who have tracked the state’s conservative movement say.
Republicans gathered late last week and over the weekend for a convention that featured speeches from party bigwigs such as U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and former Gov. Paul LePage, who is running for his old job against Democratic Gov. Janet Mills. The convention also served as a venue to finalize the party’s platform, a collection of ideas the Maine GOP supports. An initial draft of the platform released last year was described by political observers as anti-LGBTQ, anti-worker and anti-abortion. And the version approved over the weekend appears to have added even more extreme right-wing proposals.
In particular, the amended platform focuses on public schools, where Republicans are putting forward policies to censor certain types of education. The Portland Press Herald reported that the platform calls for a ban in schools on “sexually based material” as well as curbing teaching about gender-affirming health care for transgender people along with education about identifying as non-binary — which Republicans compared to child abuse — and critical race theory, which conservatives across the country have railed against. While the wording of the policies are vague, they have spurred worries that sex-ed and basic education about racism could be at risk in schools.
“The adoption of the so-called anti-critical race theory and the anti-trans amendment to the platform just shows how radical and extreme the Maine Republican party has become,” said Andy O’Brien, who has long tracked far-right activity in Maine and is currently the communications director for the Maine AFL-CIO.
The platform also includes a litany of other extreme policies such as proclaiming marriage as between only a man and a woman (an unpopular stance with the majority of Mainers), curbing abortion rights, anti-union policies, anti-immigrant proposals, and policies that would make it harder for certain people to vote.
“It shows how there really aren’t any moderate Republicans left in the party,” O’Brien said of the list of proposals included in the platform.
He noted that even Collins, who has often been described as a moderate but has lost much of that veneer in recent years, threw “total red meat to the base” during her speech at the convention. He pointed to one quote in particular from Collins in which the Maine Republican reportedly said, “Do you want to force Americans to wear masks on airplanes, while immigrants illegally flood across our Southern border unchecked?” When the crowd at the convention shouted “no,” Collins said, “Then this would be a good year to vote Republican.”
“It’s just being a demagogue. The mask is totally off on Susan Collins,” O’Brien said.
He also emphasized the influence of former state Rep. Larry Lockman, who O’Brien described as a white supremacist, on the party platform. O’Brien said Lockman — who he noted used to be on the fringes of the party but has gained more power within the GOP in recent years — had a significant presence at the convention and that a policy proposed by his extremist anti-immigrant and anti-LGBTQ organization that included the plank around banning critical race theory in schools was adopted unanimously.
That policy describes critical race theory as racial stereotyping, profiling and scapegoating, with amendment author Shawn McBreairty of the Maine First Project — the group Lockman is affiliated with — arguing that, “Morals and family values have been stripped away from schools and been replaced by identity politics and kiddie porn,” the Press Herald reported.
As Beacon previously reported, critical race theory is not actually taught in K-12 education and instead is an academic theory studied at the college level that examines the intersection of race and U.S. law. However, conservatives across the country have increasingly used the phrase as a catch-all for describing any instruction about the history of racism in the U.S. and its continued impacts and have targeted school board members in an attempt to prevent such education from taking place.
Former Gov. Paul LePage at the GOP Convention | Maine GOP via Twitter
Along with the influence of the Maine First Project, having LePage once again at the top of the Republican ticket in November is additional cause for concern, O’Brien said. He noted LePage’s many controversies during his tenure, which include the governor making blatantly racist claims such as, “Black people come up the highway and they kill Mainers” and stating when it comes to heroin sellers that “half the time they impregnate a young, white girl.”
Following the lead of former President Donald Trump, Republicans at the national level have only become more extreme since LePage last won a statewide general election in 2014. A similar lurch to the political right could take place in Maine if LePage — a Trump ally who has leveraged the former president’s lies about the 2020 election to bolster his own campaign — wins in November, O’Brien said.
“If Gov. LePage is elected and he has a Republican legislature to support him, we’re going to see anti-abortion bills, anti-gay bills, anti-immigrant bills,” he said. “It’s going to take Maine in a really dark direction.”
Amy Cookson, spokesperson at the Planned Parenthood Maine Action Fund, also expressed concern about the Maine GOP’s platform, particularly the parts around sex-ed and LGBTQ education. She said Republicans have become more extreme over the years, especially around issues of sexual politics.
“It’s unfortunate that they’re targeting children, frankly,” Cookson said. “As we’ve seen in other states, politicians are willing to attack trans kids and it looks like they’re bringing that to Maine.”
As with critical race theory, the Maine GOP platform planks around sex-ed and LGBTQ education mirror conservative efforts across the country to gain more control over public schools. A wave of anti-trans bills and measures targeting sex education have been introduced in legislatures across the country, including in Maine, and school board members have faced death threats amid the uproar over gender politics along with race and COVID-19 protocols in schools.
Dan Sayre, a member of the Maine Democratic Party platform committee and a candidate for state legislature, has been involved in fighting efforts by the GOP to have more control in Maine schools. Sayre recently helped to push back against an unsuccessful conservative-led initiative to recall school board members in RSU21, which includes Kennebunk, Arundel and Kennebunkport. Opponents of the recall effort, including Sayre, argued the measure was a fig leaf being used by local conservatives in reaction to the district’s greater emphasis on diversity, equity and inclusion.
The platform put forward by the Maine Republican Party over the weekend is a continuation of widespread efforts to tilt education in a more conservative direction, Sayre said.
“What we turned back here in Kennebunk is part of this statewide and, frankly, national Republican movement to politicize public education and to make the content of public education a wedge issue,” he said. “I think it’s terribly unfortunate that they’ve decided to drag politics into what’s happening in the classroom.”
“This kind of backward looking, inward looking, nativist teaching to what the least tolerant parent will tolerate is so bad for our country,” Sayre added.
Others also linked the Maine GOP’s platform to initiatives put forward around the country, with a news release from the Maine Democratic Party comparing state Republicans’ agenda to measures such as Florida’s notorious “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
“The Maine GOP’s latest attack on Maine’s LGBTQ+ community is not just disturbing, but dangerous,” said Maine House Speaker Ryan Fecteau (D-Biddeford). “It shows that they are more interested in attacking fellow Mainers and relaunching culture wars from the last decade than actually dealing with real issues affecting Maine’s hardworking families.”
Maine GOP Chair Demi Kouzounas did not respond to a request for comment from Beacon.
Top photo: The Maine GOP convention over the weekend | Maine GOP via Twitter
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