AUGUSTA, Maine — Rep. Lawrence Lockman’s recent inflammatory statements against Lewiston mayoral candidate Ben Chin on Facebook was not the first time Lockman has ruffled feathers with his fiery rhetoric and not the first time his comments have caused calls for his resignation.
History shows that Lockman, a Republican from Amherst, is far from the first Maine lawmaker to land in trouble. The annals of political misbehavior in Maine range from a 20-year-old ballot-stuffing scandal that is still talked about to a comment made on the U.S. House floor in 1838 that led a congressman from Maine to be shot dead in a duel.
This is by no means a complete list. It’s limited to elected officials — and, in one case, a legislator’s staff — and omits many accusations of misbehavior, including a lawmaker who retreated to his room at an inn near the State House to unwind from the political fray by puffing pot before Maine legalized medical marijuana. It’s simply intended to show that indiscretion among elected officials transcends generations and party affiliation.
Lockman is the most recent example of a lawmaker lighting a fuse on Facebook but not the only one.
— In October, Rep. John Picchiotti, R-Fairfield, published an anti-Muslim chain letter on his Facebook page. He deleted the post within days, explaining he reposted the material without fully reading through it, though not before progressive activist Mike Tipping, a blogger for the Bangor Daily News, took Picchiotti to task for a series of posts that could be considered offensive.
— In March, Sen. Mike Willette of Presque Isle resigned from his co-chairmanship of the Legislature’s State and Local Government Committee after making what the NAACP and others said were inflammatory Facebook posts about President Barack Obama. According to Tipping, Willette drew a link between Obama and a terrorist group.
Former Rep. Brian Jones, D-Freedom, was charged with indecent conduct and failure to provide his name to a law enforcement officer in September 2014 when he allegedly was caught in a sexual act with a woman at the West Gardiner Park & Ride. Jones, who attributed the incident to a “long-term struggle with alcoholism,” lost his re-election bid after the incident. In January, Jones pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct and was given deferred sentencing until January 2016.
Former Rep. Alex Cornell du Houx, D-Brunswick, found himself in the midst of controversy in May 2012 after another legislator filed a temporary protection from abuse order against him. Cornell du Houx claimed the woman had accepted his marriage proposal and an expensive engagement ring, but she claimed he had harassed her over a period of time. She withdrew the complaint after an out-of-court settlement. Cornell du Houx ended his re-election bid to the Maine House a month later but said the reason was a new assignment with the U.S. Navy.
In 2011, former Rep. David R. Burns, R-Alfred, found himself in a heap of trouble for co-mingling campaign finances with his personal finances, falsifying receipts and using public funds from the Maine Clean Election Fund for personal expenditures. Burns — who should not be confused with Sen. David Burns, R-Whiting — resigned his seat in the Legislature and on the Alfred Board of Selectmen as a result of the controversy. In June 2012, David R. Burns was sentenced to 364 days in jail, with all but six months suspended, and ordered to pay $2,384 in restitution.
In August 2010, then-Rep. Sean Flaherty, D-Scarborough, was arrested for drunken driving on Interstate 295 after rolling his car. Flaherty later pleaded guilty to operating under the influence and apologized to his constituents, but he lost his re-election bid in November 2010.
In May 2011, former Rep. Frederick Wintle, R-Garland, was arrested after pointing a handgun at a photographer for the Morning Sentinel newspaper at a coffee shop in Waterville. Wintle, who resigned from his House seat in September 2011, was charged with carrying a concealed weapon without a permit and criminal threatening with a dangerous weapon. He later pleaded guilty to felony criminal threatening, was sentenced to 45 days in jail and agreed to continue psychiatric treatment.
In 2006, Rep. Jeffrey Kaelin, R-Winterport, was stopped for drunken driving in Bangor and allegedly tried to use his position in the Legislature to convince the police officer to let him go. Kaelin, who disputed he told the officer he was a legislator, dropped his bid for re-election and pleaded guilty to the charge.
In 2009, Rep. Richard Blanchard, D-Old Town, was accused by fire marshals and a game warden of trying to use his office to avoid charges of illegal fireworks use at his camp on Cold Stream Pond in Enfield. Officers said Blanchard created a tense situation, including poking a fire investigator in the chest and saying repeatedly he was a state representative. Blanchard paid a fine for the fireworks, but an ethics investigation found insufficient evidence to further the case.
Former Rep. John Michael, I-Auburn, faced an unprecedented censure in the House of Representatives in February 2001 after verbally abusing two lawmakers a month earlier over a decision about which legislative committee should be given jurisdiction over Michael’s bills. Michael was the first lawmaker ever to be censured by the House and was required to apologize publicly for his actions, according to news reports at the time.
On election night in 1992, an aide to then-House Speaker John Martin, D-Eagle Lake, was caught in a restricted area, stuffing ballot boxes. The aide, Kenneth Allen, later pleaded guilty to burglary and ballot-tampering charges. Another legislative aide, Michael Flood, also pleaded guilty to breaking into a ballot-storage room. Martin, who suspended Allen that year to allow him to seek treatment of alcoholism, was not convicted in the scandal and remains in the Legislature today, though his long tenure as House speaker ended in 1994. That scandal, among other things, fueled Maine’s adoption of legislative term limits by citizen petition in 1993.
On Feb. 24, 1838, it was demonstrated that words spoken on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives do matter. According to an article on the House’s website, U.S. Rep. Jonathan Cilley of Maine was killed by Kentucky Rep. William Graves. Graves had approached Cilley over a bribery accusation Cilley made during House testimony. Cilley refused to accept a letter from Graves, so Graves challenged the Maine man to a duel.
The duel went for two rounds before Cilley was shot dead in the third. The House refused to censure Graves but did make dueling to the death illegal.