Lewiston council approves resolution on elections, but removes reference to Paul LePage

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Sep. 21—LEWISTON — A resolution reaffirming the City Council's support and faith in local elections passed unanimously Tuesday, but an indirect reference to former Gov. Paul LePage, whose recent comments inspired the vote, was stricken from the document.

The resolution, brought forward by Councilor Linda Scott, stated that "public support for — and trust in — free and fair elections are necessary to ensure popular support and legitimacy for those who make governmental decisions." It also said a "prominent political figure" had recently called into question election integrity "despite offering no evidence to support this charge."

LePage, the Republican gubernatorial contender, made the comments during a recent GOP event in Mount Vernon, where he said he has "great confidence in small towns," but that larger cities like Bangor, Rockland, Lewiston, Portland and South Portland "are areas you got to be a little bit more careful."

Leading up to a vote on the resolution Tuesday, Councilor Lee Clement made a motion to strike the entire third paragraph, which included the reference to a "prominent political figure." He offered the motion as a friendly amendment, which was accepted by Scott.

Clement said he doesn't believe there's a city in Maine "who has a better city clerk than Lewiston," but said, "I just think, by way of explanation, that I'd hate to see this council enter into partisan politics."

Scott said although she was "reluctant" to agree, "in the spirit of what we are going through and working through I feel like it's far more important that we as a body fully support this as a group, to support our election workers," she said.

The council had, earlier in the meeting, spent considerable time debating and eventually passing a new ordinance regulating homeless shelter in the city, which took weeks of deliberations.

Scott said she brought the resolution forward because she has done election work and volunteering in multiple capacities over the years, and has "full faith and trust and really want to give support for the people who do this work."

"They do it because they believe in civic duty and elections in our community," she said.

She also made a statement directed at anyone running for elected office this fall.

"Be careful what you say," she said.

Councilor Stephanie Gelinas said removing the paragraph would not take away from the overall reasons for the resolution.

Councilor Scott Harriman said he has also worked as a volunteer processing absentee ballots. He said he was reassured by the "checks and balances" and processes that are "very closely followed."

Clement said "conversations" on the proposed resolution took place over the last few days, and said, "It was never our intent to disparage the clerk or any of our election workers. They do an excellent job. If we didn't believe that I'm sure we'd be looking for ways to improve it, but I don't think we have anything to worry about."

It's not the first time LePage has called election matters into question. He supported Donald Trump's claims of fraud in the 2020 presidential election. LePage also regularly insisted that college students in Maine who come from other states shouldn't be allowed to vote here.

City Clerk Kathy Montejo, who oversees local elections, has been a municipal clerk for 30 years and has won multiple awards.

Just prior to the unanimous vote, Mayor Carl Sheline said, "things don't happen in a vacuum and we all know the reason why this council resolve is here."