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Maine Ron Paul backers force vote to condemn national GOP and longtime state party leaders

Maine delegate, Maine Tea Party founder, and Ron Paul supporter Pete Harring of Auburn shouts as he walks out of the hall in disgust over not being seated at the 2012 Republican National Convention at the Tampa Bay Times Forum in Tampa, Florida, on Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2012.
Mark Boster, Los Angeles Times | MCT
Maine delegate, Maine Tea Party founder, and Ron Paul supporter Pete Harring of Auburn shouts as he walks out of the hall in disgust over not being seated at the 2012 Republican National Convention at the Tampa Bay Times Forum in Tampa, Florida, on Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2012.
Posted Sept. 02, 2012, at 11:36 a.m.
Last modified Sept. 02, 2012, at 12 p.m.

WATERVILLE, Maine — After a series of setbacks at the Republican National Convention last week in Tampa, Fla., the Ron Paul wing of Maine’s Republican Party gained a symbolic victory Saturday.

During a meeting from which the media was barred Saturday morning, the Maine Republican Party’s state committee passed four resolutions proposed prior to last month’s national convention by Paul supporters who are members of the state committee. The resolutions passed by wide margins Saturday, according to Jonathan Pfaff, a member of the state committee from Cumberland County, who helped draft the resolutions.

The first resolution denounces the Republican National Committee’s decision not to seat all 20 Maine delegates pledged to Paul, a libertarian-leaning U.S. representative from Texas. That decision, based on a report that portrayed the state convention in May as chaotic and riddled with credentialing errors, led the national committee to replace 10 Maine delegates committed to Paul with alternates who support GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney. In Tampa, Maine’s Ron Paul delegates protested that decision, then walked out of the convention.

The second resolution, which was amended to reflect the fact that it was considered after the national convention, condemns a challenge to the state convention delegate selection process filed by Romney supporters Jan Martens Staples and Peter Cianchette. Initially, the resolution included a demand that the challenge be withdrawn. The timing of Saturday’s meeting made that point moot.

The third resolution expressed no confidence in Staples’ ability to represent the Maine Republican Party in “a fair and professional manner” as national committeewoman for the Maine Republican Party. Delegates to the state convention in May voted to replace her with Ashley Ryan, who traveled to Tampa as a Paul delegate.

The fourth resolution asked Republican Party Chairman Charlie Webster to remove Staples immediately from the Maine GOP’s rules and bylaws committee. The state committee did not vote on a fifth resolution calling for Staples’ immediate resignation as state committeewoman, because she no longer serves in that role.

Staples attended Saturday’s meeting “prepared to answer any questions,” she said.

“I finally got up to make a few points,” she said, but after “five or six minutes,” it became clear to her that, while some people in the room were paying close attention to her, others “weren’t interested in listening.”

When Staples spoke to the committee Saturday, one member turned his back to her in protest, according to a state committee member who asked not to be identified.

Emphasizing that she filed the challenge as part of her responsibility as a member of the state party’s rules committee, Staples on Sunday morning described the personal nature of the resolutions as “sad more than anything else.”

She worried that the backlash against her and Cianchette for filing the challenge to what happened at the state convention signals a shift to a more rigid interpretation of “party unity” to one in which supporters of candidates who don’t prevail will turn on candidates who do.

“This contest was not about Romney versus Ron Paul,” Staples told the Bangor Daily News. “This is about preserving the integrity of the process so that when we take votes, whether winning or losing, we can move on knowing that it was done fairly and by the rules. I had a special obligation as a member of the rules committee to ensure that the rules be upheld. I would not put myself through this for personal reasons.”

Saturday’s votes come too late to satisfy the petitioners’ original intent.

In their July 30 call for a special meeting of the state committee, the petitioners asked Webster to convene a meeting to address the five resolutions on either Aug. 11 or Aug. 18, prior to the national convention. Webster told the Bangor Daily News on Friday that he did not believe he could gather a quorum on either of those dates. He called the state committee together for the special meeting on Saturday in compliance with party rules, even though the items to be considered would “no longer be pertinent,” according to Webster.

For Pfaff, though, Saturday’s votes matter because they place the state committee on record “that the state convention was run fairly and correctly.”

“The message that I wanted to get out is that the Maine Republican Party is open to everyone and that when you come to participate, your vote will matter,” Pfaff said Saturday. “A body of RNC officials from outside the state will not take away your representation.”

Saturday’s meeting was followed by a show of unity in which Paul supporters who had been at odds with party leaders went door-to-door with them to campaign for Waterville-area Republican legislative candidates.

“It’s time to move on and get Republican candidates elected,” Pfaff said.

For now, many members of a new wave of Maine conservatives motivated by Paul and tea party principles to become active in the Republican party seem inclined to stick with the GOP after being angered and frustrated by the events in Tampa last week.

Whether that conservative activism will redefine the party of moderates Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins and William Cohen remains to be seen. On Dec. 1, state committee members will meet to elect party officers, including a chairman, to two-year terms.

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