SKOWHEGAN — A local propane dealer who said in a recent message that he won’t sell to anyone who voted for President-elect Donald Trump has been delivering and dispensing gas without a state license for at least two years, state officials said this week.
Michael Turner, who operates of Turner LP Gas Service on Canaan Road, left a message for would-be customers on his company’s voice mail, saying “If you voted for Donald Trump for president, I will no longer be delivering your gas. Please find someone else.” That message was left on a Friday, when the weather was bitterly cold. The message goes on to say that the cost of gas remains $110 a bottle, with payment due on delivery.
However, Turner is not licensed to sell gas. According to the Maine Fuel Board, Turner’s propane license expired in 2012. Turner had two licenses, one for delivery and the other for dispensing, which expired in 2012 and 2014, respectively. The board became aware of the issue after the news of Turner’s message was reported by the Portland Press Herald late last week.
According to records with the Maine Fuel Board, Turner was first licensed to sell propane in 1998. Doug Dunbar, a spokesperson for the Department of Professional and Financial Regulation, said the department is aware that Turner’s license expired. It is illegal to operate without a license. He said anyone can renew a license at any time, and someone operating without a license could face disciplinary action from the department or fines from the state attorney general’s office. As part of the renewal process, an inspection of the location would be conducted to make sure it meets code requirements.
Jamie Py, president of the Maine Energy Marketers Association, said a company operating without the proper licenses was uncommon and that it is “a big liability” not to have licensing, as there are safety provisions in licenses. He did say it could be difficult to find out someone was operating without a license, though, especially if it “isn’t obvious.”
“I don’t think it happens very often,” Py said.
It’s unclear how widespread it is in Maine to have small gas dealers operating without a license. Maine Fuel Board officials couldn’t be reached for comment on that question. Dunbar said the department’s Office of Professional and Occupational Regulation administers nearly 40 licensing programs with about 100,000 licensees at a time. OPOR issues licenses for propane and natural gas technicians, as well as licenses for the dispensing location. Delivery trucks used by large dealers must meet Department of Transportation requirements.
“A license ensures that a licensee meets standards established in Maine law and rules,” Dunbar said. “Fuels can be volatile, so requirements have been created. In order to receive a propane and natural gas technician’s license, an applicant must take a national training program.”
Meanwhile, the voice mail generated instant backlash, as reviews on Google in the last week have virtually all been negative. While there were a handful of reviews praising Turner for his political stand, the majority have posted negative remarks. One reviewer wrote, “I would never let a person go cold based on their political affiliations. Thanks for affirming why voting Trump was the right choice.”
On Wednesday morning, Turner said he did not expect this level of reaction from people, and that he has received calls from across the United States. Despite his message, Turner said he has never actually denied anyone gas, and his intent was just to point out Trump is “unfit to be president of anything.” But still, he was surprised at the negative reaction this has generated.
“It proves my point that these people are violent and disgusting, just like their leader,” Turner said. “To them it seems like such a joke. I’m scared; I wouldn’t be surprised if I come home and my house is in flames.”
As to the issue of licensing, Turner said he had “no idea” he hadn’t been licensed in years, but said he was retiring as of Dec. 31 anyway. He also said he was a “very small business,” estimating he only has 75 to 100 customers, all of whom are mostly at remote camps in northern Somerset County.
“I’d like to thank everyone who has called to support me,” Turner said. “And to the haters, I’d like to say, ‘Merry Christmas.'”
Turner’s Trump message — while shining a light on the licensing validity of Turner LP Gas Service — also has resulted in an avalanche of unwanted calls and messages to a woman whose phone number is nearly the same as that of the gas service.
The message had been removed by Tuesday, and there is no longer an option to leave a voice mail.
A Facebook page called “Dump: Turner LP Gas of Skowhegan, Maine” was created on Dec. 18, and has 67 likes and has a handful of negative comments about the business.
Debbie Oram, a Skowhegan resident, has a phone number one digit off from Turner’s, and she said she’s been receiving a number of harassing phone calls since the story was first reported. She said the calls began around 10 p.m. Friday and haven’t stopped since.
“We’re still getting the calls, and my answering machine is filling up,” she said Tuesday.
Many of the calls have been laced with profanities, she said. Oram estimated she has received well over 100 calls at this point. She said some people have simply hung up instead of leaving a message, but she has spoken with some of the callers and told them they had the wrong number, and those callers did apologize. However, she said the calls have caused increased anxiety for her and her two sons. Oram said she might have to change her phone number.
“It’s ongoing,” she said. “It seems like it never stops.”
Turner said he was “disgusted with the Trump supporters terrorizing (Oram).” But Turner said even after all the backlash, he strongly believes he would do this all over again. He said as a business owner, he had remained silent for years. And he said while he’s never been a political activist in the past, he may become one after he retires.
“I’m a very giving person; I think everybody should be helping each other,” Turner said. “I see nothing wrong with the rich giving a little more so people in our country won’t starve.”
Turner’s divisive political message involving a business has echoes of other cases across the state and nation.
Earlier this year, the owner of restaurants in Portland and Falmouth posted on Facebook that owners of a semi-automatic assault rifle were not welcome in her restaurants. Anne Verrill, who owns Grace in Portland and the Foreside Tavern in Falmouth, posted the message after the massacre in June at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. The post had an image of weapon appearing to be an AR-15, which is similar to the Sig Sauer MCX semi-automatic assault rifle that gunman Omar Mateen used to kill 49 people at the club, called Pulse.
Verrill’s post generated backlash from Facebook users across the country, as well as harassing calls.
Colin Ellis — 861-9253