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When the party turns rowdy

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
David Sawicki makes a motion on the floor designed to halt the national delegate nominating process at the Maine GOP Convention Saturday May 5, 2012. The motion was ruled out of order.


Amid accusations of voter fraud, ballot contamination and violations of rules of order, the Maine Republican Party has an even larger problem to worry about after its convention this weekend: future elections.

The Maine Republican State Convention was an opportunity not just to elect delegates to attend the national convention in Tampa, Fla., but for enrolled party members to hear from U.S. Senate candidates, elect a state committee that will galvanize support for future Republican legislators and unite behind a declared political platform.

That didn’t appear to happen. Instead, Mainers supporting the libertarian views of presidential candidate Ron Paul altered the agenda; challenges from Paul and Mitt Romney supporters threw the convention into disarray; and in the end, Paul backers elected a majority slate of delegates. The upset was no surprise; Maine Republican Party Chairman Charlie Webster had predicted that Paul supporters would attempt to assert their authority.

But the chaos drew attention away from what was important: getting the party fired up about well-qualified Maine House and Senate candidates and learning about the six Republican candidates seeking the U.S. Senate seat to be vacated by Olympia Snowe. With only a month until primary elections, the convention was possibly the most important place for U.S. Senate candidates Rick Bennett, Scott D’Amboise, Bruce Poliquin, Bill Schneider, Deb Plowman and Charlie Summers to address their base of supporters.

But the agenda suffered so many changes, and there were so many recounts and challenges to rules of order, that they never got a chance to speak to the full convention. The candidate that voters will pick to run in the November general election will not have won with help of the Republican convention, and the mess could feed into independent Senate candidate Angus King’s declarations of broken Republican and Democratic parties.

Time will tell whether the victory of libertarians and Paul supporters was achieved at too great a cost. It’s possible that the national convention credentials committee will prevent Maine’s selected delegation from participating there because of potential procedure violations at the state convention.

Charles Cragin, who lost the convention chairman position to Paul supporter Brent Tweed in a vote of 1,114 to 1,118, said proceedings violated state and national committee rules.

“These delegates in my opinion were elected illegally,” he said, claiming ballots were issued and then ruled to be contaminated and that one county turned in more votes than people voting.

Maine Republican Party Chairman Charlie Webster maintained that the votes count.

“My position is, there were elections held. Somebody won. We’re going to go to Tampa. We’re going to fight in every way we can to make sure our delegates are seated and their voices are heard,” he said. “I’m giddy about the new folks and what they’re going to be able to help us do to change the state.”

We’ll see whether the newly elected Republican State Committee members who vigorously supported Paul will apply that energy locally and commit themselves to fundraising for and supporting fiscally conservative, consensus-building candidates at the U.S. and state levels.

Paul will mostly likely not be the presidential nominee, so will party members shift their focus to improving Maine politics if he fades from the spotlight? They have more than the matter of Paul v. Romney before them.

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