The chairman of the York County Republican Committee will keep his position after apologizing for making “inappropriate” comments about an openly gay lawmaker.

The executive committee of the York County Republicans opted Wednesday not to take any action against chairman Jim Booth despite calls from some Republicans for Booth to resign over statements he made in an email appeal for legislative candidates. Booth had referred to Rep. Justin Chenette – a Saco Democrat who is seeking election to the Maine Senate and is openly gay – as “Little Justine” and wrote that there is “a lot of HATE for the Democratic nominee” as he urged someone to challenge Chenette this November to stop “his liberal agenda.”

“While we strongly disapprove of the words and the tone Mr. Booth conveyed in his private email, we note that he has apologized directly to Rep. Chenette,” members of the York County Republican Committee’s executive committee said in a joint statement after Wednesday’s closed-door meeting. “We earlier this evening accepted his apology on behalf of the full York County Republican Committee. We do not take this lightly; we do not want this to distract from what has been a very successful candidate recruitment season. Our priority remains focused on our positive message to move Maine forward.”

Booth also released a statement in addition to apologizing directly to Chenette.

“Although I was frustrated by not having found a candidate for that seat, there was no excuse for it,” Booth said in the statement. “Like the gentleman he is, (Chenette) accepted my apology and agreed to move on. It was crass to engage in name calling, and it was inappropriate for someone in my position. I acknowledge my mistake. I would also like to express my regret to Republicans across York County for creating this distraction. It is my sincere hope we can now move forward to the important work of electing Republicans this November.”

But while Chenette said he appreciated Booth’s call and personal apology, he was “very disappointed” that the executive committee did not ask the chairman to resign. Instead, Chenette said, the committee is “saying what he did was acceptable” by not asking for Booth’s resignation.

“To me, this was a setback for the reasonable Republicans out there who say, ‘We need to be a more tolerant party and more inclusive party’ ” said Chenette, who was the nation’s youngest openly gay legislator when he was elected in 2012. “The signal, to me, is that these sorts of tactics are OK and that this type of hate-filled rhetoric will continue.”

At least two local Republican lawmakers – Rep. Donald Marean of Hollis and Sen. David Woodsome of Waterboro – had called on Booth to resign.

Executive committee member Mike Coleman stressed that the committee took the incident seriously but accepted Booth’s apology.

“I know Mr. Booth’s heart and I know he is as inclusive a chair as we have ever had,” Coleman said. “There is no excuse and he said so in his statement.”

Chenette, 25, is seeking to replace retiring Democratic Sen. Linda Valentino in the District 31 seat. Booth sent the email after another Republican contender withdrew and before a new challenger filed to run in the District 31 race.

Tim Sevigny, a Saco resident who works as a firefighter and paramedic with the city of Biddeford, has registered to run in the District 31 race as a Republican.

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 791-6312 or at:

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