The Maine People's Alliance, a liberal activist group that helps elect Democrats, was forced to apologize last weekend for a mailer that targeted Republican state lawmakers who voted against Medicaid expansion. Among the lawmakers criticized by the mailer, which accused them of having "no spine," was Rep. Dale Crafts of Lisbon Falls, who uses a wheelchair.
Mike Tipping, the communications director for the alliance, publicly apologized for the mailer, versions of which have circulated in various legislative districts.
The mailers were crafted to resemble drug prescriptions. They describe the Republican lawmakers' ailments, including "no heart" for voting against expansion and "no spine" for not standing up to Gov. Paul LePage's "bullying." While Republican lawmakers have complained on Facebook about receiving the mailers, the Crafts mailer has sparked another level of outrage among Republican legislative leaders against the alliance, a group that aggressively lobbied for Medicaid expansion during demonstrations at the State House and through phone calls to Republican lawmakers.
In a written statement, Crafts said the alliance "is just a bunch of liberal windbags."
He added, "I voted against ObamaCare's welfare expansion because I go to work every day in my wheelchair, and I don't think I should be paying extra taxes just so able-bodied young men can get free Medicaid."
Rep. Kenneth Fredette, R-Newport, the House minority leader, said that he was glad the alliance apologized to Crafts for its "insensitive attack." He urged Democratic leaders to condemn the alliance's pattern of "outrageous behavior."
Rep. Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, the assistant majority leader in the House, released an emailed statement on Monday.
"We are very disappointed in the Maine People's Alliance," McCabe wrote. "We have spoken to them and learned that it was a terrible oversight on their part. We were glad that they immediately apologized to Rep. Crafts."
Sen. Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, the Senate minority leader, questioned whether the Crafts mailer was a simple mistake.
“This is a well-organized and well-financed group that has a history of launching unfounded, vicious attacks on their political opponents," he said. "But this is a new low, even for them."
Sen. Garret Mason, R-Lisbon Falls, raised similar questions during an interview with WVOM. Mason said Crafts' mailer was worded differently than those targeting other lawmakers and that the alliance was well aware of Crafts' disability.
"Either Tipping is insincere in his apology or he doesn't have control over his organization," Mason said.
The alliance has been a longstanding nemesis for Republicans at the State House and in elections. The group is known for its voter canvassing and get-out-the-vote efforts to support Democratic candidates. Republicans have routinely denounced the organization as a liberal attack group, while others have suggested that the Maine Republican Party needs a similar organization to counter the alliance's efforts.
The Crafts mailer has generated a steady stream of public outrage among Republican lawmakers and activists. There are signals that some rank and file Democratic lawmakers are also displeased.
In an email forwarded to the Portland Press Herald, Democratic Reps. Brian Jones of Freedom and Denise Harlow of Portland forwarded an email to a Republican lawmaker to describe the Crafts mailer as "pretty disturbing."
Jones and Harlow also emailed contact information for the alliance.
"We won't go into what we find troubling in this mailer because it isn't our place to tell you what to think, but if you do find this as unsettling as we do, please email the Maine People's Alliance and voice your strong concerns over it," they wrote.
They added, "In the end, do we need this type of campaigning, and what does it really do? It poisons relationships in the Legislature beforehand and perpetuates an 'us versus them' approach to doing our work. It isn’t productive in helping the people of Maine make informed decisions by appealing to issues viscerally. Finally, even though the 'playbook' might say that negative campaigning 'works,' most of our constituents find it distasteful."
Harlow, in a follow-up email, said she and Jones planned to highlight negative ads regardless of which party or interest group was responsible for producing it.
Similar mailers are expected to become a large part of the battle for the State House. The alliance has been a leading advocate for expanding Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act with demonstrations at the State House and activist calls to state lawmakers. When Republicans in the Legislature sustained LePage's veto of one of four Medicaid expansion bills, the group vowed electoral consequences.