PORTLAND, Maine — Erick Bennett, a conservative Portland consultant who has launched a Republican primary campaign against incumbent U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, says his experience with the justice system — which he obtained when he was convicted of domestic violence assault 10 years ago — is driving him toward what he calls a “pro-family” agenda.
Bennett held a news conference Monday in Portland, during which he talked about his campaign, the domestic violence conviction, and controversy over his self-described role as a staffer for Gov. Paul LePage’s 2010 campaign — a role that others in LePage’s campaign team said Bennett never played.
Republican power players in Maine, including state GOP Chairman Rick Bennett — no relation — have distanced themselves from the primary hopeful, who they say is not a credible primary challenger.
Erick Bennett deflected those comments Monday, saying he’s had invitations to speak with several GOP county caucuses ahead of the 2014 primary.
“The majority of the state party, at this point, is worried about their meal ticket losing and the people actually getting someone that’s going to represent them,” he said. “I think that’s where their opposition is coming from.”
Bennett was convicted of Class D assault in a 2003 District Court ruling after attacking his wife. The two since have divorced.
He fought the conviction until 2004, when it was affirmed by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, which ruled that “the court did not commit clear error or abuse its discretion in excluding irrelevant evidence at trial,” and that “sufficient evidence does exist in the record to support his conviction.”
Still, Bennett claims he is innocent and said the justice system is stacked against alleged attackers in domestic violence cases. When asked about his specific case, he said he was “railroaded” by the court after declining to accept a plea agreement.
“All that needs to be done is you have to repeat what you wrote down in the police report and that allows the victim to be viewed as a credible witness,” he said. “So basically, if someone writes something down, it doesn’t have to be true. All they have to do is repeat that on the stand. … That’s grounds for anyone to be convicted of domestic violence.”
Bennett said Collins had supported laws that made it easier for victims to obtain convictions, but would not give any specific examples of which laws. He said he could provide specific information at a later date.
He also said his time in jail speaks volumes about his character.
“The fact that I have been jailed repeatedly for not agreeing to admit to something I didn’t do should speak to the fact of how much guts and integrity I have,” he said. “If I go to D.C., I’m going to have that same integrity in doing what I say, and saying what I do, when it comes to protecting people’s rights, as well as their pocketbooks.
Bennett also defended his claim that he had been a staffer for LePage’s 2010 campaign, saying he worked for the governor for about a year. He has previously said he worked on the governor’s digital team.
“I was compensated for this, and there was a typo in the report, and my name was filed under something else, instead of my accurate name. I can’t remember what it was,” he said.
Jason Savage, now executive director of the Maine Republican Party, ran LePage’s digital team in 2010. He said he recalled Bennett voicing his support for LePage from his own Facebook account, but said he never worked as a staffer. He also said Bennett’s U.S. Senate candidacy was not credible.
Bennett describes his ideology as “pretty much a cut-and-dry Republican,” saying he believes government had grown too large, and that he would vote against any spending or tax increases. He also believes Americans’ constitutional rights are being eroded.
“We must have honest conversations about the constant abuses of power and violations of our civil liberties that are going on at the hands of this government,” he said.
Bennett’s political experience includes a failed bid to get on the ballot as a mayoral candidate in Portland and in leading the Maine Equal Rights Center, a conservative group that fought against same-sex marriage in 2012.
He caused some controversy recently with comments some perceived as homophobic posted on Facebook about U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, a Democrat from Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, who recently came out as gay.
Bennett will need to gather at least 2,000 signatures supporting his appearance on the June Republican primary ballot. He said he expects to have this done by next week.
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.