The three challengers for chairperson of the Maine Republican Party’s seat traveled to the Phippsburg Sportsmen Association on Tuesday evening to make their closing arguments for the Sagadahoc County GOP support for the upcoming state committee vote on Saturday.
Former House Republican Assistant Leader Joel Stetkis of Canaan, Rep. Heidi Sampson (R-Alfred) and former Republican legislative candidate and Maine GOP committee member Guy Lebida of Bowdoin were all singing from the same hymnal on at least one point – the urgent need for change in leadership of a political party that was pushed to the margins of relevance in last November’s election.
Not present was incumbent chairwoman Demi Kouzounas, who is seeking re-election for a fourth term.
According to those in attendance, Kouzounas is traveling to California today so she can cast her ballot for incumbent RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel. Lebida, an immediate past Sagadahoc county chair, noted that a recent poll indicated that 80 percent of Republicans would like to see McDaniel call it quits after the party’s failure to capitalize on what many had hoped would be a red wave in November’s midterm election.
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Lebida also said that either Sampson or Stetkis would make a strong new leader for the party. His candidacy seems driven less by a desire to be the next chair than to ensure that the status quo does not prevail.
Stetkis pointed out that the outcome of Maine legislative races in total came down to just over 2,000 votes in a year that over 700,000 registered voters went to the polls. That, he stressed, points to a strategic failure that requires a new leader ready to embrace a grassroots-up rather than top-down approach to running the GOP. He pointed to his own engagement with legislative races in all sixteen counties since he’s been active in politics, and successes even in last fall’s underwhelming overall results in flipping seats in Aroostook, Waldo and Washington counties.
An athletics coach by profession, Sampson said the party suffers from too thin a bench from which to draw for candidates whether for local school boards or state-wide office. She spoke with gathering passion about the need for greater focus on education given the alarming number of incidents that have been reported throughout the state of schools being used to indoctrinate students on issues far beyond academic curricula. She also called the state GOP’s failure to prepare for the vast uptick in mail-in voting the equivalent of political malpractice.
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County committee members grilled the candidates on questions about attracting new, younger voters to the party and whether they would change the current practice of keeping contact information of other Republicans in other counties locked in silos, as all three candidates agreed the state GOP in Augusta currently does.
“I’ve been having a hard time even finding out which state committee members are actually allowed to vote in Saturday’s election,” Stetkis lamented.
“What we need is a whole new vision for how we approach things, because what we’ve got now is clearly not working,” Sampson pointed out.
Lebida said Republicans failed to get a voter ID referendum question to voters, and while the party did manage to get a repeal of the state’s ranked choice voting system on the ballot, they did not push it through to victory.
The three were cordial with one another before and after the meeting, though none said they would agree to be vice-chair should the other win the top seat. The party by-laws themselves, the three agreed, only calcify the current top-down dynamic on the state committee and should be reviewed.