AUGUSTA, Maine — An offhand comment at Tuesday’s public hearing on congressional redistricting has stirred up a controversy that underscores a broad and deepening partisan battle in Maine’s capitol.
Susan Cook of Bath, who spoke in favor of the Democrats’ plan for redrawing the state’s two congressional districts, used part of her time to levy allegations against Maine Senate President Kevin Raye.
Cook claimed that Raye, a Republican from Perry, has been secretly recording phone calls from constituents without their permission, and she wanted the public to be aware of his conduct.
The woman, who happens to be the secretary for the Maine Democratic Party, left Tuesday’s hearing before she could expand on or clarify those comments. Party Spokeswoman Lizzy Reinholt said Cook was not planning to speak to the press.
Raye, who did not attend Tuesday’s hearing in Augusta, heard about Cook’s statement later and called the accusations “very serious,” “baseless” and “scurrilous.”
“I have never taped a phone call in my life,” he said by phone later in the day. “I’m not sure I would know how.”
Cook provided no evidence for her claims. Either way, Maine is one of many states that follow one-party consent laws for telephone recording. That means no permission is needed for one person to tape-record a conversation.
Raye, however, said the law matters less than his name being attached to such behavior.
“I think she should apologize to me and to the people of Maine, who I believe she misrepresented,” the Senate president said.
Maine GOP Chairman Charlie Webster went one step further. He called for Cook’s resignation.
“This is just the latest in a series of recent attacks by Maine Democrats to divert attention from Republican successes,” Webster said. “Democrats have failed in their assault on Republican job-creating policies championed by the Senate President so they have resorted to personal attacks.”
Ben Grant, chairman of the Maine Democratic Party, stressed Tuesday afternoon that Cook was speaking as an individual and not on behalf of the party.
“To be perfectly honest, we were completely caught off guard by the comments made by Susan today,” Grant said. “Regardless of who she was speaking on behalf of, our party values facts and honesty, which is why we are looking into her accusations and we will deal with this accordingly.”
Although Cook did not make the link, Raye’s name likely was mentioned Tuesday during the redistricting discussion because his name has been mentioned as a possible challenger to 2nd District U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud.
Many Democrats believe the GOP’s redistricting plan is an attempt to make the 2nd District more competitive for Republicans.