Maine Democrats’ secretary won’t back down from controversial comments

Posted Sept. 01, 2011, at 5:44 p.m.
Last modified Sept. 02, 2011, at 9:12 a.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine Democratic Party Chairman Ben Grant said he has spoken at length with his party’s secretary about unsubstantiated comments she made last week criticizing Senate President Kevin Raye, but Grant has not and will not ask her to step down.

House Minority Leader Emily Cain, D-Orono, said she wishes Susan Cook had resigned already.

Cook made headlines when she testified during last week’s public hearing on congressional redistricting and used part of her time to accuse Raye, a Republican, of recording phone calls from constituents without their permission.

Although Cook did not provide any evidence then or since, Grant said she stands by her story.

“There doesn’t appear to be any evidence, but this is not based on hearsay. She believes this happened to her,” he said.

In previous reports, Raye said he received a phone message from Cook regarding a constituent concern in Washington County.

Maine is one of many states that follow one-party consent laws for telephone recording, which means no permission is needed for one person to tape-record a conversation. So Grant said it’s important to clarify that Cook did not accuse Raye of anything illegal.

Still, Maine GOP Chairman Charlie Webster said Cook’s remarks were cause for resignation.

“Democrats have failed in their assault on Republican job-creating policies championed by the Senate President so they have resorted to personal attacks,” he said last week.

Cain, maybe for the first time, agreed with Webster.

“To me, if she’s making unsubstantiated claims, she’s dealing in fiction,” the Democratic leader said.

Grant, however, said he would not call for her resignation, in part because he doesn’t have that power but also because he doesn’t think it’s necessary. He did tell Cook explicitly that her comments were unwarranted at that particular time and place.

“Whether or not she believes what she said doesn’t excuse raising it in that forum,” he said, adding that Cook had made virtually the same claim during a legislative hearing a few months ago without much fanfare.

Raye did not attend the public hearing during which Cook made her accusation but responded later that day. He said he never has tape-recorded a phone call in his life and doesn’t know what prompted Cook to make those claims.

On Thursday, Raye said he was disappointed not only that a high-ranking official in the Maine Democratic Party would make such false allegations but that she would continue to stand by them without providing proof.

“I think it’s going to hang like a cloud over their party hierarchy,” Raye said.

Cook has not apologized, at least not publicly. She has not spoken to the media about her remarks and attempts to reach her have been unsuccessful.

Grant made it clear last week and again Thursday that Cook was not speaking on behalf of the Maine Democratic Party when she criticized Raye. Grant said he and other Democrats were caught off guard by the comments.

The timing was most unfortunate, Cain said, because Cook’s comments took away from what should have been a positive public hearing. Most of those who spoke during the congressional redistricting meeting, Cook included, spoke in favor of the Democrats’ plan.

Although the link was not directly made last week, it was not a surprise to hear Raye’s name in connection with the redistricting debate.

The longtime Maine lawmaker has been mentioned as a likely challenger to 2nd District U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud and many Democrats have felt the GOP’s redistricting efforts have been an attempt to make the 2nd District more competitive for Republicans.

Grant said he thought it was a bit hypocritical of Webster to call for Cook’s resignation given the fact that the Maine Republican Party has stood behind their chairman’s accusations of voter fraud, which so far have been unsubstantiated.

“I think they stepped into a big mess with this voter fraud issue and they’re trying to change the story,” Grant said.

For Cain, she wants Democrats to be known as the party of fact not fiction and said Cook’s claims erodes the work her caucus has done.

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