AUGUSTA — A controversy over elections within the Maine Republican Party led to the resignations of at least three longtime activists in Penobscot County who say they’re so angry that they no longer will register as Republicans.
Michelle and Ken Anderson of Millinocket became active Republicans about 12 years ago after moving to Maine. First, Ken helped revitalize the town Republican committee. Subsequently both he and Michelle moved on to the county committee. Recently, Michelle has also been a member of the Republican State Committee.
But both Andersons say their days of participating in grass-roots Republican activism are over. At issue, among other things, is whether the party broke its own rules in a January election when the county committee elected officers and recommended a probate court judge to Gov. Paul LePage.
“I believed at the time that I got involved in the party that people who get elected do the right thing,” said Michelle Anderson, who until her resignation last week was a member of the Republican State Committee. “Unfortunately I’ve learned that’s not the case. I just want the right thing done.”
Ken Anderson, who with his wife used to publish a conservative newspaper called All Maine Matters, also resigned from the Penobscot County Republican Committee and shed his political identity as a Republican.
Ken Anderson was one of two people who formally objected to a Penobscot County Republican Committee meeting in January. He said an election for committee leadership at that meeting occurred with at least 20 people who were not eligible to vote. The Andersons said there were 71 votes cast despite the presence of only 50 eligible voters at the meeting.
“These violations included an illegal vote to permit members who were not eligible voting members of the committee to nevertheless vote in the election of officers,” wrote Ken Anderson in his appeal. “These violations also involved a mishandling of proxies, and a lack of transparency in the count of these votes, to the effect that it cannot be determined what the results of the election would have been had it been conducted in accordance with the bylaws.”
The situation was a microcosm of what unfolded in May 2012 at the Republican State Convention, when an influx of supporters for Ron Paul caused disarray and confusion. The problems at the state convention later led to the rejection of many of Maine’s delegates at the Republican National Convention last August.
Many Ron Paul supporters blamed last year’s controversies on former Maine Republican Party Chairman Charlie Webster, who chose not to seek a new two-year term in that role and was replaced in December by former state legislator Rich Cebra of Naples. But the election of Cebra, who won endorsements from LePage and some of the Maine GOP’s “liberty caucus,” did not spur the changes that the Andersons hoped for.
In his appeal, Anderson alleged that rules for accepting voting members of the committee were improperly waived during a previous meeting on Dec. 20 in Brewer. Party officials rejected the appeal because they did not consider Ken Anderson an “affected person,” according to documents provided by the Andersons.
Among the items voted on that night was the election of a county committee chairman. The candidates were former Sen. Debra Plowman of Hampden, who ended up winning the election, and Bryan Daugherty of Bangor.
Daugherty, who also recently resigned from county and state committees and told the Bangor Daily News this week that he intends to quit the Republican Party because of the controversy, followed up Anderson’s appeal on March 9 with one of his own.
“There remains an ongoing bylaw breach that occurred during the December Penobscot meeting which continues to be in direct violation to our county bylaws,” wrote Daugherty in his appeal, which was also rejected by Cebra on the grounds that his arguments about violations of Robert’s Rules of Order were invalid because party rules take precedent.
Vic Berardelli of Bangor, who is a member of the Penobscot County and State Republican committees, said he was at both the December and January meetings.
Berardelli said he saw “a lot of faces I’d never seen before,” but emphasized that he didn’t see that as proof that ineligible voters cast ballots. Party rules allow people who can’t attend a vote to assign someone else to take their place.
“To be honest with you, I cannot say anything one way or the other about the irregularities,” said Berardelli.
In a five-page March 1 memo to state committee members that was provided by the Andersons, Cebra said he has “deep concern for the controversy that has surrounded the Penobscot County election” and ordered an investigation into the process to ensure that party rules and bylaws are being followed.
“Since Jan. 17, 2013, our party has become one that is consumed with intrigue, mistrust, and an undercurrent of malice toward others within our party who do not share our every opinion and belief,” wrote Cebra. “This is no way for a party, especially one that values honesty, transparency, a belief in the ability of the people to manage their own affairs and a strong faith in self-governance, to operate.”
Jason Savage, executive director of the Maine Republican Party, said the investigation is under way to ensure that proper procedures were followed in the past and will continue to be in the future.
“We’re not aware of anything specifically that gives us reason to throw the election out but we have announced that we are going to look into it,” said Savage. “We’re doing the investigation to ensure the integrity of the election but not because of the indication that we’re doing anything wrong. Every decision that has been made by the party on this situation has gone through legal channels.”
Representatives from both the Maine Ethics Commission and the secretary of state’s office said they have no jurisdiction over party-level elections.
The Andersons and Daugherty said, for them, there is no going back even though they have volunteered untold hours to Republican causes.
“I’ve been a Republican for 18 years,” said Daugherty. “When you bring up a gross violation and nobody even wants to hear it and they find excuses not to deal with the situation, we dealt with that in Tampa [at the 2012 Republican National Convention]. To do that in my backyard and in my own state, I just couldn’t stomach it anymore. It’s one thing if it’s the RNC or another national organization. It’s another thing if it’s in your own state party where you’ve given blood, sweat and tears.”