PORTLAND, Maine — The University of Southern Maine will allow a controversial Maine legislator to deliver a speech on the Portland campus titled “Alien Invasion: Fixing the Immigrant Crisis,” despite demands from a student group that it cancel the event.
In a Facebook post Wednesday, Students for #USMFuture called on the university to cancel the scheduled talk by Rep. Lawrence Lockman, R-Amherst, whose career has been pockmarked with controversy over comments about homo sexu ality, rape, abortion and more recently immigration.
USM President Glenn Cummings, a former Democratic Speaker of the Maine House of Representatives, has offered assurances that Lockman will have the opportunity to speak.
“Though the event may fly in the face of what you or I may believe, we will not and cannot stop the event from taking place,” Cummings wrote in a letter to the USM community.
Lockman was invited to USM’s Portland campus to speak by another student group, Young Americans for Freedom. The brewing controversy a week before his visit fits into a national trend of provocative right-wing speakers being met with hostility on left-leaning college campuses.
Lockman is scheduled to speak on Feb. 16 from 7 to 8 p.m. at USM’s Wishcamper Center. He said he will be talking about the failure of America’s “open border” policy and a bill, LD 366, he is forwarding to cut off state funding to cities and towns that don’t cooperate with federal immigration authorities.
When he proposed a similar measure last year it was promptly killed in the House, but Lockman expressed optimism that there would be more support this time around, citing concern about terrorism.
Such a bill appears aimed at Portland. Maine’s largest city has a policy of cooperating with federal law enforcement but also broadly blocks city employees, including police, from asking about people’s immigration status. Gov. Paul LePage has repeatedly called Portland a “sanctuary city,” a label city leaders reject.
In calling on Cummings to cancel the legislator’s appearance, Students for #USMFuture argued that his Lockman’s “dangerous viewpoints … have the potential to incite acts of violence against people in the USM community.”
In support of this worry, the group pointed to a the arrest of a Portland man for allegedly assaulting and yelling slurs at a group of Casco Bay High School students on the day President Donald Trump signed an executive order temporarily banning residents of seven majority Muslim countries from coming to the U.S.
Cummings reportedly will require that Young Americans for Freedom pay for police or campus security to be on hand at the event.
“In this case, we do believe there is a risk to public safety,” Cummings told the Portland Press Herald on Wednesday. “It could become a highly charged situation, and that is why we believe having extra security on hand will be essential.”
Lockman’s talk comes soon after protests at the University of California Berkeley shut down a scheduled appearance by Breitbart editor and right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos. Those protests turned violent and resulted in more than $100,000 in damages.
Lockman shrugged off concerns that his talk would be disrupted, saying he’s confident that “cooler heads will prevail.”
He also denied that he was giving the talk in Portland, which has policies to protect and support immigrants, as an act of deliberate provocation. Lockman said he’s speaking here simply because a group of students invited him.
“I didn’t go looking for an opportunity to come to Portland,” he said with a chuckle.