During Thursday night’s debate on same-sex marriage, an incident involving a university diversity officer who was suspended after she signed a petition to put gay marriage on the ballot was offered by opponents as further proof that the law will have a chilling effect on free speech.

Carroll Conley Jr. of the Christian Civic League used Angela McCaskill of Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., as an example of the erosion of individual liberties.

“She was suspended for saying citizens should have a vote,” he said.

Mary Bonauto, an attorney for Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, quickly responded.

“It’s an outrage and she should get her job back,” she said.

On that point, the sides agreed.

Earlier this month, McCaskill was suspended from her job as diversity officer after Gallaudet faculty members discovered she had signed a petition to send gay marriage to the ballot in Maryland. The university president said he needed time to consider whether it was appropriate for a diversity officer to have signed the petition, according to The Baltimore Sun.

Early last week, McCaskill, a Maryland resident, held a news conference to demand her job back and to ask for compensation for what the university has put her through.

The situation has been used in a TV ad by gay marriage opponents in Maryland, and looks as though it will continue to be cited by opponents as an example of what will happen if gay marriage becomes legal in more states. In an editorial, The Sun called it a “scare tactic.”

Abbott backs Question 1

Former Republican gubernatorial candidate Steve Abbott was one of a second wave of Republicans to announce their support for same-sex marriage Thursday.

At news conferences in Portland and Bangor, Abbott, who finished fourth in a seven-way primary in 2010, said in a statement that as a Republican, he believes in personal responsibility.

“Allowing same-sex couples to receive a marriage license will make our communities stronger and will make thousands of families more secure,” he said. “Marriage promotes values such as stability, commitment and responsibility that we can all support.”

Others making the new list were Ken Mehlman, chairman of the Republican National Committee, and former state Rep. Ken Lindell, R-Frankfort. Lindell described himself as a “libertarian Republican.”

“Thousands of gay and lesbian couples are being denied the opportunity to enter into a legally recognized union,” he said, according to a statement provided by Mainers United for Marriage.

MEA slams virtual schools

The Maine Education Association, the state’s principal teachers’ union, issued a report last week critical of full-time virtual charter schools, which, they say, should not be allowed to open in Maine.

The 12-page report, “Virtual Failure: The Growth of Online Charter Schools,” examines the track record of the two out-of-state companies seeking to manage such schools in Maine — K12 Inc. and Connections Learning — and concludes that their schools fail students while diverting resources from existing public schools.

“As educators, we cannot let virtual charter schools open in Maine,” MEA president Lois Kilby-Chesley is quoted as saying. “There is too much reearch that proves these schools fail our students while turning pupils into profits for out-of-state companies.”

The Maine Sunday Telegram’s investigation of the role the two companies have been playing in Maine isn’t mentioned in the report, which focuses on their track records in other states, and relies heavily on investigations by the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado.

The ostensibly indepedent, Maine-based boards of the proposed Maine schools that would be managed by the companies — Maine Virtual Academy and Maine Connections Academy — have filed paperwork indicating they plan to reapply for charters at the end of the month. The independent board that issues charters tabled both entities’ applications earlier this year, provoking an angry letter from Gov. Paul LePage.

Democratic groups have used the issue against Maine Republican Party Vice Chair Ruth Summers, who chairs the board of Maine Connections Academy, is married to Republican U.S. Senate candidate Charlie Summers, and is herself running for Maine Senate in the Scarborough area.

PAC rapped on survey

Project Vote Smart, a national nonpartisan organization, issued a sharp rebuke to a Republican group for “blatantly twisting” the organization’s candidate survey to bash a Democrat running for state Senate in District 6.

Adelaide Kimball, a spokeswoman for Project Vote Smart, said Tuesday that the Maine Senate Republican Majority Political Action Committee manipulated Democratic candidate Jim Boyle’s responses to the “political courage” survey in negative television and mail ads.

The Maine Senate Republican Majority PAC is one of several groups spending big dollars on legislative races. In television and mail ads hitting Boyle, the group references Boyle’s answers to the political courage test to say that the Democrat wants to raise taxes.

Kimball said Vote Smart prohibits the use of its name on campaign advertising because candidates and other groups use the information to attack their opponents.

“This kind of negative campaign activity deliberately deceives voters and is precisely the sort of tactic that Vote Smart attempts to counter with its factual database,” Kimball said.

Kimball acknowledged that her organization has no legal recourse against the Republican PAC. However, she said, it was important that the public be made aware that the group’s claims were “blatantly manipulative and blatantly wrong.”

The dust-up is the latest signal of how competitive the race in District 6 has become. The district includes Scarborough and Gorham, where Boyle is taking on Republican Ruth Summers. (Summers refused to answer the political courage test.)

Union-backed groups have been blasting Summers for her connection to virtual schools, which have recently come under scrutiny following a Maine Sunday Telegram investigation. Democrats have also sent some unusual mailers that appear to portray Boyle as an independent.

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