Maine lawmaker who flouted pandemic rules resigns after wife's COVID-19 death

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Nov. 29—An Aroostook County lawmaker and anti-masking advocate who was stricken with COVID-19 this summer and whose wife died after contracting the virus has resigned from the Maine Legislature.

State Rep. Chris Johansen, R-Monticello, a staunch opponent of pandemic-related restrictions, told House Speaker Ryan Fecteau in a letter dated Nov. 19 that he needed to tend to his farm. He said his wife, Cindy, had taken care of the farm, allowing him to serve in the Maine House.

"Her dedication to the farm allowed me to dedicate the time I needed to the people of Aroostook County," Johansen wrote. "With her passing I am no longer afforded that time."

Johansen had challenged a legislative rule requiring that masks be worn inside the State House to control the spread of COVID-19. He appeared maskless in a video taken inside a State House office in January and was one of seven lawmakers who had a confrontation with Capitol Police in May when the lawmakers entered the State House without masks.

Johansen and the other six lawmakers were stripped of their committee assignments for breaking the rule. Both Johansen and his wife had shared posts on Facebook downplaying the pandemic and mocking vaccines.

Johansen used his resignation letter to reiterate his opposition to rules designed to curb the spread of coronavirus, saying he had fought for his belief in "the principle that government doesn't get to tell you how to live your life."

He also said that he regretted stepping down because "I feel there is still much to be done to roll back the expansion of state power that we have witnessed these past two years" and said he felt he has been "a voice of opposition to uncontrolled emergency powers in the hands of one person."

Johansen became ill with COVID-19 in July and his wife, Cindy, who also had asthma, posted on Facebook that she had contracted the virus. Johansen never confirmed that she had died because of the virus, although a Maine Republican Party spokesman said COVID-19 was the cause of her death. A few weeks after Cindy Johansen died, Chris Johansen attended an Augusta rally against the state's vaccination mandate for health care workers.

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