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Group Apologizes to Maine Lawmaker for Offensive Flier

Maine House of Representatives

A progressive advocacy group has apologized for a campaign flier that targeted dozens of Republican lawmakers for opposing the expansion of Medicaid in Maine. The Maine Peoples Alliance had sent out the letter to voters in those districts characterizing those legislators as "spineless" for refusing "to stand up" to the governor on the issue. As A.J. Higgins reports, that mesage offended one GOP lawmaker who uses a wheelchair.

Lisbon Rep. Dale Crafts says he's acquired a tolerance for political jabs as he prepares to run for a fourth term in the Maine House. But the Republican lawmaker says the Maine People's Alliance letter crossed the line when it dismissed him as "heartless and spineless" for refusing to stand up to Gov. Paul LePage in defense of Medicaid expansion legislation.

Crafts has used a wheelchair for 26 years as the result of injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident.

"I understand the politics part of it, I've been in it long enough," Crafts says. "I guess what was disturbing is that they were actually dropping them off at my family's door, and I had one family member come running over to my house just totally upset."

Mike Tipping, communications director for the Maine People's Alliance says the people who distributed the letters never considered how the choice of words might offend the disabled lawmaker. Tipping says he called Crafts to apologize.

"Yeah, it was an oversight and it was an unfortunate oversight, and that's why we apologized," Tipping says. "But I think the reason that people are trying to make so much about this confusion is because they don't want to talk about the actual issue, which is the refusal of the federal funding for health care."

In the aftermath of the MPA's political attack on Republicans, party leaders launched a counter-offensive over the weekend, with Senate Republican Leader Michael Thibodeau and House Republican Leader Ken Fredette calling on Senate President Justin Alfond and House Speaker Mark Eves to denounce the Medicaid expansion flier.

And at least one Democrat, Rep. Brian Jones of Liberty, criticized the proliferation of what he referred to as poisonous political strategies that rely on a divisive message. He says history has shown that such political attacks can actually work in favor of the intended target.

"I don't know if this will backfire or not," Jones says. "I'd like to think that the citizens elect their representatives based on their perception of their judgment, their beliefs, and their integrity. I'd certainly like to think that most Mainers are above this type of quite toxic campaign messaging."

Rep. Crafts says he's accepted the MPA apology and wants to move on with his reelection bid.