ALFRED, Maine — York County Republican Committee Chairman James Booth remains in his elected position after issuing a written apology late Wednesday for his remarks about Rep. Justin Chenette, D-Saco, in an email last week.
“He did not offer his resignation, nor was he asked to resign,” said Michael Coleman of the York County Republican Committee’s executive committee after a closed-door committee meeting Wednesday night.
A written statement that includes Booth’s apology and accompanying remarks by the executive committee was issued to the Journal Tribune by the committee after the meeting.
Booth had been under pressure by some county Republicans and others to resign as chairman after writing an email to fellow GOP members that referred to Chenette, the Democratic candidate for Senate District 31, as “Little Justine.”
In the email, Booth was seeking candidates to run against Chenette and for another seat in November before the July 25 deadline after two candidates dropped out. The email, in part, said “there was a lot of HATE” for Chenette, who is openly gay. Booth later apologized to Chenette personally by phone.
Chenette, who also is employed as a digital account executive for the Journal Tribune, expressed dismay that Booth remains chair of the county committee.
“To leave someone in a position of power that has blatantly used hate to recruit political candidates is despicable, and gives all York County Republicans an unfair bad name,” Chenette said. “The fact that my Republican colleagues in the House and Senate have publicly called on his resignation should be a sign that this is unacceptable, and swift action should be taken.
“Leaving Jim Booth as chair of the county committee signals to me that hate speech and personal attacks will continue being used as tactics in the upcoming fall campaign. As someone who grew up in a family of Republicans, I know the party can be better than that,” he said.
In a phone interview Wednesday before the executive committee meeting, Booth noted that he had apologized to Chenette, and suggested that members of the Republican Party who have been demanding his resignation were doing so to gain political points.
“There are some folks, mostly elected officials, trying to make hay out of his for political reasons,” said Booth. “I think people, before they know me, are judging me by one stupid thing.
“My mother used to tell me, ‘People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones’ and many of the local ones live in glass houses. A lot of grass-roots activists have told me not to resign,” he said.
Booth’s two-year term as chairman of the York County Republican Committee expires in December, according to Vice Chairman Ed Karytko. County committee officers are elected by the general membership – each town or city committee is allotted a number of voting members, he said.
“No one in the Republican Party feels this is acceptable,” said Karytko of Booth’s email referencing Chenette.
However, the executive committee accepted Booth’s apology Wednesday.
“While we strongly disapprove of the words and the tone Mr. Booth conveyed in his private email, we note that he has apologized directly to Rep. Chenette,” said the statement issued by the executive committee. “We earlier this evening accepted his apology on behalf of the full York County Republican Committee.
“We do not take this lightly; we do not want this to distract from what has been a very successful candidate recruitment season. Our priority remains focused on our positive message to move Maine forward,” according to the statement.
“I know the man’s heart,” said Coleman Wednesday night. “[Booth] has been a very hard-working, inclusive chairman, and shares most of our values. He’s been very contrite about this.”
Some county Republicans who have called for Booth’s resignation expressed disappointment that he remains in his position.
“I’m not happy, but we’ll move on,” said Alfred Republican Town Committee Chairman George Donovan.
Donovan said Booth’s email that referenced Chenette was not the first occasion where the GOP county chair has made intemperate remarks, “but it is the first time people really spoke up.”
On Friday, Republican Sen. David Woodsome, who represents Senate Distinct 33, called on Booth to resign for what he described as his homophobic attack against Chenette.
“I do not agree with the executive committee’s decision to allow Jim Booth to stay as chairman,” said Woodsome Wednesday night. “I will work to help Republican candidates [who had nothing to do with Jim’s actions]. I will not be attending committee meetings.”
Maine Democrats, meanwhile, are referring to Booth’s email in campaign literature.
“Here at the Maine Democratic Party, we’re among the many who are appalled by this unacceptable and hurtful language,” stated a fundraising email sent Monday and signed by Maine Democratic Party Chairman Phil Bartlett.
“Unfortunately, this intolerance isn’t new. It’s yet another example of the bullying behavior the GOP is becoming known for, from Donald Trump to Paul LePage — and now at the local level. … We won’t stand for this hateful rhetoric. It doesn’t reflect Maine values,” the email stated.