Democrats call for senator’s resignation for remarks on Obama, Muslims

Controversy over state senator Michael Willette’s history of racially charged and otherwise inflammatory posts about President Barack Obama and about Muslims reached a boiling point Wednesday as Democrats called for his resignation.

Willette, a Presque Isle Republican, was revealed earlier this week to have shared a meme on Facebook that linked Obama to the terrorist group that calls itself the Islamic State, more commonly known as ISIS. The meme featured a photo of the president and said “Why haven’t I done anything about ISIS? Because I’ll deal with them at the family reunion.”

Mike Tipping, spokesman for the progressive Maine People’s Alliance and a blogger hosted by the BDN, first documented the post, and later publicized a string of similarly offensive material shared or said by Willette on Facebook, including many aimed at Obama.

Others were aimed at Muslims. In one post about Muslims, Willette wrote simply “round them up and air drop them back into the rubble and hell holes from whence they came.”

Willette has apologized for sharing the post linking Obama to ISIS, but critics argue he’s made no clear indication that he understands why that one or the others are offensive. Democrats have called on him to rebuke the content of the posts, not just apologize for sharing them.

In calling for Willette’s resignation, MDP Chairman Phil Bartlett said the senator’s “extensive history of offensive, bigoted and racist remarks suggests that they represent his core beliefs, which have no place in the State House and damage the integrity of the office he holds.”

“His statements cross the line of being simply offensive and are in line with the type of hate speech that is known to perpetuate violence and further divide our communities,” Bartlett said. “We cannot accept this discriminatory behavior from anyone, especially our elected leaders.”

In a floor speech in the Senate on Wednesday, Willette addressed the controversy. He again apologized for sharing the posts, and said that as a former Democrat, he had voted for Obama in 2008.

Since then, he said he’s been “profoundly disappointed” by the president.

“That frustration led me, against my better judgment, to make several criticisms of the President that were completely inappropriate,” he said, according to prepared remarks. “I think many of us can identify with the temptation to not listen to our better angels and instead to lash out publicly against those with whom we disagree. As a state legislator I am held to a higher standard and need to show restraint. I would like to publicly apologize for my actions and ask for your forgiveness.”

Meanwhile, the Maine Republican Party in a statement said that it “condemns and disagrees with the substance, spirit and sentiment of Senator Willette’s posts.” However, Maine GOP Executive Director Jason Savage accused Democrats of “throwing stones from glass houses.”

Savage shared prior examples of Democrats making inflammatory statements about truck drivers, former vice president Dick Cheney and former president George W. Bush.

Mario Moretto

About Mario Moretto

Mario Moretto has been a Maine journalist, in print and online publications, since 2009. He joined the Bangor Daily News in 2012, first as a general assignment reporter in his native Hancock County and, now, in the State House. Mario left the BDN in 2015.