Rachel Talbot Ross, president of the NAACP’s Portland Maine, chapter,speaking out against the raciest remarks of Sen. Willette.
By Ramona du Houx
Rachel Talbot Ross, president of the NAACP’s Portland chapter, said that Senate President Michael Thibodeau should consider censuring Sen. Willette, temporarily removing him as chairman of a legislative committee or ratifying a joint sentiment by the Senate condemning his remarks.
“We believe in the First Amendment of the US Constitution and, as such, Sen. Willette's right to freedom of expression. Freedom of speech is not, however, freedom from responsibility,” said Ross. “Sweeping bigotry under the rug does not make it go away. It drives it underground. It grows. It becomes insidious. We begin to accept its presence. Today, we are here to say, we will not allow for that to happen. Because, we are not going away. Looking the other way, staying silent, is easy. But confronting and talking about the insidious nature of racism, bigotry and xenophobia, the fear of others, is a responsibility that we all share.”
Earlier today, Ross, Rabbi Rachel Isaacs, former Penobscot Indian Nation Representative Donna Loring, members of the NAACP, and other Democratic Senators, held a press conference calling for collective action in denouncing racist and bigoted remarks made by Aroostook County State Senator Michael Willette of Presque Isle.
“This is a pivotal moment for not just the Maine Senate or the Maine Legislature but for the state as a whole. We want Maine to be a welcoming place to people of all colors and religions. But that can only happen if we learn from this moment. We can’t learn from this if we ignore it or hope it goes away,” said Senate Democratic Leader Justin Alfond. “We continue to call for the entire Senate body to come together and denounce hate speech, racism, and bigotry. I call on all of us to work on a better way to move forward for our institution and for Maine--to do so will only make us stronger.”
More than a week ago, Mike Tipping revealed in a Bangor Daily News blog post, Maine GOP Senator suggests Pres. Obama will see ISIS at family reunion, a Facebook post by Sen. Willette slurring President Obama. Tipping later revealed that Sen. Willette has a long and prolific history of posting xenophobic and bigoted Facebook comments [Maine Sen. Michael Willette has a long history of online hate and bigotry].
Since then, on March 10, Senate Democratic leadership sent a letter to Senate President Mike Thibodeau, saying, “We ask that as a legislative body, we unite and not look the other way or tolerate words of hate and racism. To do so, is to done it, to agree with it, and to be complicit in the violence for which it perpetuates.”
The next day, Sen. Willette apologized on the Senate floor saying, he failed “to show restraint.”
“When a Maine State Senator makes comments like the ones he has, it has to be met with consequences or it is no longer simply his view—it becomes condoned and words cannot mitigate that,” said Donna Loring of the Penobscot Nation. “When an institution does nothing but politicize the issue with no real action, it continues to say, ‘we agree, let’s move on to business as usual.’ The issue is never the words but how, as leaders, we respond through action that sends a clear message that people of color are important just as important as the next person…”
“Problems only grow when they are ignored,” said Assistant Senate Democratic Leader Dawn Hill of York. “If folks don’t believe racism and bigotry are okay, then why hold back? There’s no downside to standing up and being counted on to do what’s right.”