A political mailer stoking anti-immigration fears in the House District 55 race is the work of a political action committee run by conservative Republican Rep. Larry Lockman.
The glossy, oversized flyer accuses incumbent Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, of voting “to allow the killings to continue in Portland,” referring to two homicides in which immigrants were arrested and sentenced. Berry voted against Lockman’s unsuccessful bill in the current legislative session that would have levied a fine of $500 a day on so-called sanctuary cities that do not share certain information with federal immigration officials.
“This is obviously a despicable and misleading and self-serving mailer,” Berry said Wednesday. “It’s a wild mischaracterization of what the bill actually would have done and the negative impact it would have had … (and) using scare tactics against our own neighbors is against the values on which America has been built.”
Berry said the mailer, which landed in mailboxes Wednesday, may have unintentionally helped him. He says constituents have called “expressing their outrage,” including some who were previously on the fence. “I’m hearing new support as a result of this. I think Rep. Lockman has clearly underestimated the intelligence of the people.”
FOCUSING ON CONSERVATIVE CAUSES
The mailer is from the Maine First Project in Augusta, a group headed by Lockman, a three-term lawmaker from Amherst, and its political arm, the Maine First PAC.
The Maine First Project is described on its website as a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that focuses on strict immigration laws, eliminating the state income tax, supporting right-to-work legislation, strengthening vocational education and school choice, and other conservative causes.
It’s not clear whether the organization has any staff other than Lockman, but its Facebook account indicates that the group sponsors “activist training courses” where participants learn how to lobby lawmakers, engage with others on political issues and build coalitions with other like-minded activists.
Lockman said in an email Thursday that similar flyers were sent in four other House districts, but he did not identify them.
“Maine First Project believes that no issue is more important than the safety of Mainers,” Lockman wrote. “When legislators vote to put the interests of illegal aliens above the well-being of the hardworking men and women of Maine, their constituents need to hear about it.”
Lockman said he would not be available for additional comment.
Lockman said his political action committee, Maine First, has more than $10,000 on hand and was considering independent expenditures on other issues. The PAC reported raising $7,250 in its most recent campaign finance filings with the Maine Ethics Commission in late July. The bulk of that money, $5,000, is from Brewer businessman Charles “Chip” Hutchins, the grandson of the founder of the Dead River Co.
The expenditure for the mailing has not yet been reported to the Ethics Commission, and it is unknown how much the mailer cost or how many households received it.
Lockman is a well-known provocateur who has a decades-long history of making controversial statements about immigration, race, gay people, abortion and rape.
Earlier this year, he lost support from Republican Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who said she would not endorse someone who called a bill on assisting recent immigrants to Maine part of a “war on whites,” a popular hashtag among white supremacists on Twitter. She had endorsed his 2014 re-election bid.
Lockman is running for re-election to a fourth term in District 137 against Democrat Douglas Bunker of Franklin. The district includes 15 small towns and all or part of six unorganized townships in Hancock and Washington counties.
The mailing in Berry’s district is reminiscent of an inflammatory flyer sent out in the 2016 campaign by another group founded by Lockman, the New England Opportunity Project, which changed its name to Maine First Project. The Maine Ethics Commission penalized the group $672 for failing to disclose election spending on a campaign flyer.
The flyer targeted then-Maine House majority leader Rep. Jeff McCabe, suggesting he supported harboring illegal immigrants and terrorists in Maine. The flyer, mailed to voters in parts of Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, described Portland as an “ISIS incubator” and criticized the Democrat incumbent for not voting for Lockman-sponsored legislation that would have cut off state funding to communities that prohibit police from asking about a person’s immigration status.
The anti-sanctuary city bill, L.D. 1833, referenced in the recent flyer, would have fined communities that did not share information with federal immigration officials, such as agreeing to detain someone without providing a warrant from a judge or showing probable cause. It failed to pass in either the House or the Republican-controlled Senate.
Last year, Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce announced such a practice was unconstitutional and that the department would no longer cooperate with requests by Immigration and Customs Enforcement to hold prisoners at the county jail beyond their scheduled release.
“If the outside world wants to throw grenades in here, that’s unfortunate. We are going to uphold Maine values, and this mailer is clearly a violation of those values,” said Berry, a former House majority leader and five-term lawmaker.
A Maine Democratic Party spokesman said he was unaware of similar mailings sent this campaign season.
“Larry Lockman’s racist history and that of his shady organization speaks for itself, and these kinds of race-baiting attacks are coming from Republicans because they can’t defend their record on the issues that matter to voters,” Chris Glynn said.
The Lockman organization sent the flyer just days after Berry penned a Facebook essay decrying “mud season” in politics and noting that in his last campaign, 10 mailers were sent out attacking him and that there is a long running anonymous Facebook page that is “wildly misleading and negative.”
“For 21 months now, I‘ve been attacked by an anonymous Facebook page called the Seth Berry Report, which features blueberry pictures and seems harmless, but is in fact wildly misleading and negative,” he wrote. “The page always refuses to say who’s behind it, but my opponent has been inviting people to “like” the page and it went online just after he lost his last election.”
Berry is running against Republican challenger Guy Lebida, who was endorsed by Gov. Paul LePage and has raised $17,465 – almost twice the $9,215 raised by Berry, a Clean Election candidate.
Anti-immigrant campaign mailer distributed by the Maine First Project in Augusta. (Submitted photo)