The Maine Republican Party has put up signs in Aroostook County that mimic campaign signs posted by Democratic Senate Speaker Troy Jackson and falsely claim he wants to cut police funding.
The signs have blue lettering on a white background, similar to some of Jackson’s official campaign signs. But the fine print at the bottom of the signs says they are paid for by the Republican Party of Maine, a disclosure required by state law.
The party posted a photo of the signs on Twitter over the weekend without acknowledging its involvement.
“Spotted at the Potato Blossom Festival in Fort Fairfield…Vote Troy Jackson – Defund the Police!” the tweet says, along with two photos of the panels.
The signs seek to tie Jackson to funding the policing movement, which sprung up in response to the 2020 police killing of George Floyd and other black people and has been used across the country to cast Democrats as forces of the anti-police order.
Jackson called the signs a “brainless lie” and said he was “100% supportive of our law enforcement,” adding that funding for police had increased during his tenure. Jackson voted against the only bill introduced in the last session that would have cut funding for the police.
“Maine Republicans, Senate Republicans and my opponent know this is (expletive),” said Jackson, who lives in Allagash and is challenged by Rep. Sue Bernard, R-Caribou. “They have to feel like my record beat me so they have to cut me down and try to get people to believe that lie so they can win. If that’s how you have to win, that’s really sorry of them.
But even false campaign claims can have the desired effect, he said.
“There are people who will just believe it,” he added. “And other people, you spend so much time talking about something that’s not accurate and not even close to the truth. But you have to fix it, as opposed to the real issues affecting us right now and the real things we can do to help.
A spokesperson for the Maine Republican Party could not cite a vote or statement to support the claim and instead pointed out that Jackson was accepting help from an out-of-state group affiliated with another group that proposed model legislation across the United States to study police spending. and the possibility of reallocating it to social programs or education. Such legislation, called the Community Reinvestment Act, has never been proposed in Maine, however.
The tactic underscores the aggressive campaign strategy employed by Republicans, who many experts say are poised for big gains in 2022 thanks to Pres. Joe Biden’s unpopularity, inflation, rising gas prices and the exploitation of controversial cultural issues such as critical race theory, transgender rights and immigration.
Republicans hope the domestic political environment, paired with former Gov. Paul LePage leading the way against incumbent Democratic Gov. Janet Mills, will help the party gain control of at least one, or both, of the legislative chambers. of State. this autumn.
It also highlights how hard Republicans seek to unseat Jackson, an experienced and outspoken Democratic leader.
This is the second time Republicans have rolled out lawn signs in an effort to tie Democratic candidates to national issues. At the Democratic state convention in Bangor, Republicans put “Biden Mills Gas Hike” signs outside the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor, where their rivals were meeting.
Typically, campaign signs promote a person seeking elected office or urge voters to approve or oppose a specific referendum.
Mark Brewer, professor and chair of the political science department at the University of Maine, Orono, said signs like those posted in Aroostook County appear to be part of a relatively new trend in Maine politics.
“What this shows me is how much national politics is penetrating into state and even local politics,” Brewer said. “American politics is becoming more and more nationalized every year.”
Republicans aren’t the only ones who have deployed fake campaign signs in an attempt to hurt an opponent. Democrats tried a similar tactic in 2020, when they put up “Trump Collins” signs in Portland that mimicked Trump-Pence campaign signs. Democrats defended the tactic, saying Collins voted with Pres. Trump 94% of the time and helped confirm 181 of his judicial nominees. The Collins campaign dismissed it as a small stunt.
Although he was not involved in the effort, Jackson said the signs put up by Republicans this election cycle are worse because they contain blatant lies. He said the Biden-Mills signs incorrectly suggested the Democratic incumbent raised gas taxes, when she did not. And the police defunding signs put up in the county have no basis in reality, he said.
The Legislative Assembly passed a bill in the last session that would have cut some funding for the police.
DL 1278 reportedly canceled the Maine Information Analysis Center, one of several so-called fusion centers created to bolster national security after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, but has since been accused of spying on protesters and monitoring Facebook accounts. But this bill died between the houses, with the support of the House and the opposition of the Senate.
Jackson voted against funding the center in a Roll-call vote of June 14, 2021. And a spokesperson noted that Jackson had backed budgets that increased funding for the Department of Public Safety and Corrections, increased retirement benefits for correctional officers and increased revenue for municipalities that could be used to fund operations. of law enforcement in local budgets.
Maine Republican Party spokesman Riley Ploch could not cite a vote or statement from Jackson to support the claim that he supports defunding the police.
Instead, Ploch pointed to the endorsement of Jackson and nine other Senate Democrats by the States Project, a national group that backs Democratic candidates for state legislatures. Jackson called the group Democrats’ “strongest ally” in 2020, when Democrats expanded their majority in the Senate.
The group is affiliated with Future Now Action, which in 2020 had drafted model legislation for states interested in studying police funding and determining whether some of it should be diverted to social programs or education.
“Jackson was a strong supporter of this group and its program as he advocated for defunding the police,” Ploch said. “That statement is as clear as a bell: he supports them and their efforts, which include defunding the police.”
The Republican State Leadership Committee, which works to elect Republicans to legislatures across the country, made the connection in a June 21 press release and the attack was amplified by the Maine Republican Party. and the Maine Senate Republican majority campaign.
“If these 10 Democratic Senate candidates from Maine care about the safety of their constituents and fighting crime, they should reject the States Bill’s endorsement and pledge to return all future donations that this group of pro-defund police send them,” RSLC National Press Secretary Stephanie Rivera said in a written statement. “Maine voters deserve Augusta leaders who support law enforcement, who will fight crime and keep their communities safe, rather than those funded by special interest groups who want to defund the police.”
Bernard, the Republican running against Jackson, distanced herself from her party’s actions but did not condemn the signs or call for their removal. She wouldn’t answer a question about whether she supports the message.
“I did not pay, endorse or even have knowledge of these signs,” she said in a text message. “It’s not part of my campaign.”
Senate Minority Leader Jeffrey Timberlake, R-Turner, who oversees the Republican Senate campaign, did not respond to a request for an interview on Tuesday.
The States Draft endorsed nine other Democratic Senate candidates – Joseph Baldacci of Bangor, Chip Curry of Belfast, Nicole Grohoski of Ellsworth, Craig Hickman of Winthrop, Dave LaFountain of Winslow, Timothy Nangle of Windham, Joseph Rafferty of Kennebunk, Peggy Rotundo of Lewiston and Bettyann Sheats of Auburn.
Ploch did not directly respond to a question about whether Republicans would show similar signs in those races, based on state draft endorsements.
“We’re going to make sure voters are aware of all Maine Democrats who refuse to fund police opinions and support,” he said.
“It’s unfortunate that they’re still here with them,” Jackson said of Republicans. “That’s what they do. When they don’t have anything credible to attack people with, they just make something up and it’s hard to campaign against that.
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