The National Rifle Association has given all seven Democratic candidates in the race to be Maine’s next governor an F grade on their election year scorecard, while awarding all four Republicans in the race an A grade.

Republican Garrett Mason is the only governor candidate to earn an A+ rating from the National Rifle Association.

Only one Republican, state Sen. Garrett Mason of Lisbon Falls, received the national pro-gun group’s top grade of A+. Another Republican candidate and legislator, Maine House Minority Leader Ken Fredette of Newport, received an A grade.

The other two Republican candidates, Mary Mayhew, a former commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services from South China, and Shawn Moody, a Gorham businessman and entrepreneur, received an “AQ” grade, signifying that they are pro-gun candidates but do not have voting record on Second Amendment legislation. The grade is based only on the candidate’s response to a questionnaire.

Gun rights and gun control have become prominent issues for candidates running for election in 2018 in the wake of recent mass shootings, including those at high schools in Parkland, Florida, where 17 were killed in February, and near Houston, where 10 were killed in May.

The grades are issued by the NRA’s political arm, the NRA-Political Victory Fund, and come about a week before Maine voters head to the polls to select their respective party’s candidates.

Mason’s A+ is the result of his voting record and for having “made a vigorous effort to promote and defend the Second Amendment,” according to a description of the grades on the NRA’s website. Fredette’s A rating represents a candidate who is, “solidly pro-gun” and who has been supportive of the NRA in key votes as an elected official.

Meanwhile, the Fs for all seven Democrats in the race represent a candidate who is a “true enemy of gun owners’ rights” and supports or sponsors gun control measures or actively leads gun control legislative efforts.

Democrats will likely tout their failing NRA grades to their liberal supporters, while Republicans will embrace the grades in Maine – a state with long traditions of hunting and gun ownership in which the Legislature has consistently backed gun-owner rights. That includes a law change in 2015 that eliminated permit requirements for adults over the age of 21 who want to carry a concealed handgun in public.

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Candidates for the Legislature who face primary contests also were graded. Among them was a trio of Democratic House members hoping to step up to the Senate: Rep. Louis Luchini of Ellsworth, running for Senate District 7; Rep. Erin Herbig, the House majority leader from Belfast, running for Senate District 11; and Rep. Heather Sanborn of Portland, running for Senate District 28. All were given “D” grades, which represents “An anti-gun candidate who usually supports restrictive gun control legislation and opposes pro-gun reforms. Regardless of public statements, they can usually be counted on to vote wrong on key issues,” the NRA said.

Warren Richardson, who is in a primary contest in House District 70, in rural western Maine including the towns of Fryeburg and Lovell, has the distinction of being a Democrat who received an AQ grade. Richardson is running against Nathan R.L. Burnett, who received only a question mark from the NRA, indicating that he may not have completed the questionnaire.

The NRA’s influence in Maine can be significant although not always apparent. The organization gives modest sums to political candidates, but it also funds most of the gun safety and training courses offered by local Maine gun clubs, with many of those clubs requiring an NRA membership in order to join or take gun courses.

The failing grades for the Democratic candidates in the governor’s race comes as no surprise, according to David Trahan, a former Republican state lawmaker and the executive director of Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, which often aligns itself with the NRA on gun owner rights.

“I think Democrats view any support from the NRA as a bad thing,” Trahan said. “I don’t think any of them want to be aligned with the NRA.” Still Trahan said he was surprised by what he saw as shifting of positions for two of the Democrats, who are viewed by many as front-runners in the race.

He said Maine Attorney General Janet Mills and Sanford attorney Adam Cote, a 20-year veteran of the Maine National Guard, appeared to moving to the left on gun issues. The two also have increasingly taken swipes at each other on the campaign trail with Mills defending her previous A grades from the NRA, saying they were for her support of land conservation legislation related to hunting. But Cote contends that the grades from the early 2000s were for her opposition to universal background checks for gun sales. “She has been pretty good on guns in the past and appears to be moving to the left,” Trahan said of Mills, who lives in the Franklin County town of Farmington.

Trahan said the sportsman’s alliance will endorse candidates in the general election in November and will base those endorsements, in part, on a questionnaire sent to candidates. And while that survey includes questions on gun rights, the scope of issues SAM asks about is broader, including hunting, trapping and land conservation.

“So, it is likely we will have candidates we support that are not necessarily going to be supported by the NRA as well,” Trahan said.

William Harwood, an attorney and the president of the Maine Gun Safety Coalition, a group that advocates for more stringent gun control laws, said he didn’t believe an A rating from the NRA would be viewed positively by all Maine voters. Harwood said the NRA has lost credibility in its unmitigated support of gun rights, especially in the wake of the most recent mass shootings in Florida and Texas. Harwood said Mainers want candidates who will protect their right to bear arms and the state’s long tradition of hunting, but also who are also willing to do something meaningful about gun violence. He said that includes what many see as common-sense reforms such as banning high-capacity magazines and universal background checks for all gun sales.

“The NRA is out of touch with the people and in particular out of touch with the people of Maine,” Harwood said. “This is an old-school way of trying to influence the political process and a lot of people in Maine don’t appreciate their outside influence. Candidates proudly displaying an A rating from the NRA may be surprised the reaction from voters here may not be what it has been in the past.”

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 713-6720 or at:

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