December 12, 2018
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Faith leaders arrested for sit-in at Collins’ Portland office released from jail

Jake Bleiberg | BDN
Jake Bleiberg | BDN
Police arrested Rabbi Joshua Chason, 71, of Portland, for criminal trespassing around 8 p.m. Thursday, after he and a group of other faith leader spent about 10 hours occupying U.S. Sen. Susan Collins office in protest of the Republican plan to overhaul the federal tax code.

PORTLAND, Maine — The faith leaders arrested Thursday night after occupying U.S. Sen. Susan Collins’ local office in protests of the Republican tax overhaul have been released from jail.

The nine protesters all paid a $60 fee and were released from the Cumberland County Jail on personal recognizance within hours of the Portland police breaking up their demonstration, a jail official said Friday.

The group, which included a rabbi, a Buddhist leader and faith leaders from other denominations, was the second to be arrested in the senator’s offices this week while trying to pressure her to reject sweeping changes to the federal tax code that are being negotiated in Washington, D.C.

“The little, tiny bit of inconvenience we experienced [in being arrested] is really infinitesimal compared with the impact that this bill would have on millions of Americans if it passes,” the Rev. Allen. Ewing-Merrill of Portland’s HopeGateWay United Methodist church said Friday.

The group contends the as-yet-unfinalized tax bill will benefit corporations and the wealthy but hurt poor and middle-class Americans. Collins’ vote helped Republicans narrowly pass a tax bill through the Senate, but she has not taken a position on whether she’ll support the measure once it merges with a House tax bill.

Ewing-Merrill, 47, was arrested alongside Rabbi Joshua Chason, 71, of Portland; Marty Soule, 67, a Buddhist leader from Readfield; the Rev. Carie Johnsen, 54, pastor of the Unitarian Universalist Community of Augusta; the Rev. Christina Sillari, 54, minister of First Parish Church in Portland; Molly Brewer, 31, student minister at the First Universalist Church in Auburn; the Rev. Jim Gertmenian, 70, of Cumberland, a retired United Church of Christ minister; Diane Dicranian, 62, a Quaker from Bath; and the Rev. Jonathan Wright-Gray, 72, of Ocean Park.

The protesters were charged with criminal trespass, according to a Portland city spokeswoman.

They are scheduled to make an initial court appearance on Feb. 1, Ewing-Merrill said. It was not clear Friday whether the Cumberland County district attorney intended to sustain the charges against them.

The group was treated with consistent respect by Collins’ staff, police and jail officials and was feeling “inspired, energized and committed” to continue protesting, Ewing-Merrill told the Bangor Daily News.

They are taking some time to regroup after last night’s arrests but feel the protest effectively increased pressure on Collins and plan to continue, the minister said.

Before the arrests, Collins told WABI-TV that she remains hopeful that amendments she worked into the Senate bill will survive the process of merger with the House bill.

Collins’ measures would allow taxpayers to deduct up to $10,000 in property taxes, to reduce a medical expense deduction threshold and to allow public and nonprofit employees to keep making catch-up contributions to retirement accounts. But it is not clear whether House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, supports including them in the final bill.

“I’m going to look at what comes out of the conference committee meeting to reconcile the differences between the Senate and House Bill,” Collins told the Bangor television station. “So I won’t make a final decision until I see what that package is.”

On Friday afternoon, a group of about 35 protesters, mostly Bowdoin College students, also staged a demonstration against the tax plan at Collins’ Portland office.

For less than an hour, the students read statements, sang and softly chanted in Collins’ office, while her staff listened and took notes.

The senator turned 65 on Thursday and the group left a birthday cake in her office. It had “#GOPTaxScam” written on it in red icing.

“I hope they eat the cake,” said student organizer Jonah Watt, as he left the building.

Follow Jake Bleiberg at: @JZBleiberg.

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