AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine Republican Party Chairman Rich Cebra and Vice Chairwoman Beth O’Connor have resigned, a little more than seven months after being elected to the party’s top two leadership positions.
Jason Savage, executive director of the Maine Republican Party, confirmed Wednesday afternoon that Cebra resigned “for personal reasons” within the past 24 hours. O’Connor submitted her resignation letter about a week ago, Savage said.
“The day-to-day party operations will continue while the state committee works to elect a new chairman,” Savage said by phone Wednesday.
Party leaders plan to release details about the process for replacing Cebra and O’Connor later this week or early next week, according to Savage. The party chairman must be elected by the Republican State Committee, he said.
Soon after Cebra took over, Republicans affiliated with the party’s libertarian wing began expressing dissatisfaction with him. While they shared his conservative values, they questioned his leadership.
“Cebra has been a big disappointment,” Vic Berardelli, a Republican state committee member from Penobscot County and chairman of the Maine Republican Liberty Caucus, said by phone Wednesday. “I stuck my neck out and lost some good friendships in my efforts to get Rich Cebra elected as Maine Republican Party chairman. He did not have the management and fundraising ability or people skills to bring factions together.”
Berardelli said Cebra stopped returning phone calls more than a month ago and that he was not forthright with state committee members about the party’s operating budget. That caused dissatisfaction among an increasing number of committee members, according to Berardelli.
An email Wednesday about Cebra’s resignation from Maine Republican Party Secretary Charles Mahaleris represented “the first I’ve heard in more than a month” from or about Cebra, Berardelli said.
In a resignation letter dated June 28, O’Connor wrote that she was disappointed by Republican legislators’ failure to support Gov. Paul LePage’s veto of the Legislature’s biennial budget compromise.
“After Wednesday’s performance of our Republican Caucus in Augusta on LD 1509, The Budget, I am certain I cannot refrain from violating ‘Reagan’s rules’ in other words, not say anything bad about a fellow Republican,” O’Connor wrote. “In fact, I am sure I already have.”
O’Connor said she would focus her political energies as chairwoman of Maine Taxpayers United.
One of Cebra’s last acts as Maine Republican Party chairman was to announce a July 13 fundraiser at the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine headquarters in Augusta “to celebrate Republican success in protecting the privacy of Maine concealed carry permit holders.”
One name that has been floated as a possible replacement for Cebra is former State Treasurer Bruce Poliquin of Georgetown, who ran unsuccessful campaigns for governor in 2010 and Congress in 2012. Poliquin told the BDN on Wednesday afternoon that he had just heard about Cebra’s resignation and that he has been approached by several people within the party to take over. However, he said his mind is not made up, partially because he is mulling a run for the 2nd Congressional District seat that is likely to be vacated by Democrat Mike Michaud, who is exploring a run for governor.
“You can’t do both,” said Poliquin. “There have been an increasing number of people who have asked me to consider taking that position over the past few weeks when it looked like Rich would be stepping down. Whoever takes over will have to very clearly explain our party’s agenda for less government spending, less debt, less taxes and more jobs for the people of Maine.”
Poliquin would not say whether he has a time frame in mind for deciding whether to run for Congress.
Berardelli mentioned Blaine Richardson, a 2012 candidate for the 2nd Congressional District, and former Maine Senate President Rick Bennett as other possible candidates to become chairman, but he stressed that their names have simply been bandied about in speculative conversations among Maine Republicans. Party bylaws prevent a legislator, announced candidate for federal office or registered lobbyist from serving as chairman.
Cebra won the party chairmanship on Dec. 1, 2012, after O’Connor withdrew her candidacy immediately before the vote. She then was nominated and elected vice chairwoman.
LePage had endorsed Cebra to replace departing Chairman Charlie Webster, who chose not to seek a third two-year term after Republicans lost control of the Legislature in November 2012 elections and amid controversy about his allegations that “dozens of black people” who were unfamiliar to municipal officials voted Nov. 6, 2012, in rural Maine towns.
“It’s a new day in Maine,” Cebra said after his election. He also described the Maine Republican Party as “a unified party that works.”
Before becoming Maine Republican Party chairman, Cebra served four terms representing Naples in the Maine House of Representatives. O’Connor served in the House in 2011 and 2012 during the GOP-controlled 125th Legislature. She lost her bid for re-election to Democrat Joshua Plante.
BDN senior writer Christopher Cousins contributed to this report.