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Political Brew: Domestic terror, Poliquin ducks challenger

This week's analysts are Democratic activist Betsy Sweet, former Yarmouth town councilor, and Republican state Sen. Phil Harriman.

MAINE, USA — A gunman killed 10 people in a racially motivated mass shooting in Buffalo, New York, last weekend, an act that President Joe Biden called an act of domestic terrorism.

Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyoming, accused her party's leaders of enabling "white nationalism, white supremacy, and antisemitism."

Some party members have been criticized for echoing the "Great Replacement" conspiracy theory.

"I don't think it's fair criticism," Phil Harriman said. "I'm a proud Republican, and it doesn't represent my views of the way we should behave as citizens."

"This case was a mental health issue, not a white supremacy or Republican issue," he continued.

"I don't think hate is a mental health issue," Betsy Sweet responded. "The Republican party is fostering [white supremacy and] encouraging people to go out and live out that hate, and that's exactly what this kid said he was doing."

Republican Sen. Susan Collins, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said she was planning to speak with Attorney General Merrick Garland about what more the nation needs to do to root out white supremacists who recruit and radicalize Americans, and our analysts both agree that this problem needs more of our attention.

Maine has primary elections coming up on June 14. Two Republicans are vying for the chance to take on incumbent Democratic Congressman Jared Golden.

Liz Caruso, the first selectperson for the town of Caratunk, appeared on NEWS CENTER Maine this week after the other candidate in this race, former Congressman Bruce Poliquin, declined our offer to appear with Caruso in a Voice of the Voter forum. Caruso says Poliquin has so far refused to debate her on- or off-camera.

Sweet and Harriman said Maine voters expect to see candidates in debates and forums together.

Harriman said he feels candidates should welcome the chance to appear on statewide television to make their case, but he says, "the political brain surgeons behind the scenes statistically say, 'Don't do this, you're probably going to get exposed in a way that's not beneficial, so just take a pass.'"

And Sweet says political consultants are doing this not just in Maine but across the country. "To say, 'Oh, don't say anything and we can just fool them and pretend you're not who you are.' It's a bad trend."

In the first TV ad in the race for governor of Maine, Republicans went after Gov. Janet Mills and her administration for using tax dollars to create pro-LGBTQ lesson plans for students as young as kindergarten.

Just last weekend, Republicans chided Democrats at their state convention for trying to shift the focus away from the economy by focusing on social issues such as abortion. But their first anti-Mills ad is about discussing LGBTQ matters in school.

Harriman thinks most voters are concerned with the economy but believes emotionally-charged social issues "may determine who goes to vote, but not how they're going to vote."

"This is despicable," says Sweet. "To take some of the most vulnerable people in our state, young LGBTQ and especially trans kids, and use them as political fodder."

And she is sharply critical of Gov. Mills for having the learning module in question, one of hundreds that were created to help teachers with remote learning, removed by the Department of Education.

Sweet says, "This was a time for the governor to stand up and say we care about everyone in this state."

Harriman thinks the lesson video should have been vetted before being posted. "I think the way the Mills administration perhaps could've reset was to say. 'The video was age-appropriate for say fifth grade or sixth grade onward,' that would've been perhaps less infuriating."

Our analysts also discuss the latest push by lawmakers and foster families to improve Maine's child protective services, the unanimous vote by South Portland city councilors to treat racism as a public health issue, and the likelihood that the state will take legal action to hold chemical manufacturers responsible for PFAS contamination in our soil and water.

Political Brew airs Sundays on NEWS CENTER Maine's Weekend Morning Report.

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