November 16, 2012

OUR OPINION: GOP should call for Webster to step down now

House Republicans elected Ken Fredette to be their leader on Wednesday, after he promised to reach out to constituent groups such as women and young people whose votes put the Democrats back in power in Augusta.

That's a positive message, and Maine will benefit if both parties are competing for the same votes. If they really mean it, however, Maine Republicans should take a stronger stand against their party chairman, Charlie Webster.

In a rambling post-election television interview, Webster completely undercut Fredette's attempt to reach out. The chairman made the outrageous claim that busloads of unknown "black people" arrived in rural Maine towns on Election Day, tipping the election for Democrats.

He would not identify in which towns this is alleged to have occurred, or provide any corroborating witnesses. The secretary of state's office never heard of it, neither has the state's municipal clerks association.

Webster says his comments were not based on bias, and he produced an apologetic written statement on Thursday. He's still done injury to all Mainers of color, however, and an apology should not be enough.

By identifying the mystery voters as black, Webster insinuates two things: One is that everyone can tell by their skin color how they will vote, and the other is that their presence in rural Maine is suspicious.

Both allegations are insulting and could make minority voters feel uncomfortable about going to the polls, worrying that their neighbors will agree with Webster.

The fact that his allegation is preposterous -- busloads of hundreds of voters that only he can see -- doesn't make it any less offensive.

Other Republicans also should speak out. Webster in not some loudmouth in a diner: He is the elected chairman of a state party. Even though he only has a few weeks left in his term, that should be a few weeks too many for party members who claim they want to broaden their message.

Republican operative Lance Dutson on Thursday called for Webster's immediate resignation, and every Republican from the governor down to the lowest officeholder should join him. Anything less signals a tolerance for Webster's intolerant words.

If the party really wants to reach out to the people who voted against their candidates last week, now is its chance.

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