Controversial remarks made last week by Waterville’s mayor and the vice chairman of the Maine Republican Party, Nick Isgro, have divided Republican leadership with some brushing off the comments while others have called for accountability.

Isgro, using the Maine GOP’s Twitter account, falsely blamed immigrants for outbreaks of infectious diseases while also defending people who testified against a bill that would eliminate philosophical or religious exemptions to state requirements that public school students be vaccinated against certain diseases.

On Friday, Senate Republicans denounced the comments Isgro made on the Maine GOP Twitter account and called for the group to take “swift action and for those responsible to be held accountable.” Later Friday, Isgro issued a statement through the Maine GOP clarifying that the tweets “came from me and not the GOP at large.”

Senate Republican Leader Sen. Dana Dow, R-Waldoboro, seen here Dec. 5, says he disagrees with statements made by GOP Vice Chair Nick Isgro about vaccinations and immigration. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan

State Sen. Dana Dow, R-Lincoln, the Senate Republican leader, said Monday he doesn’t approve of Isgro’s comments and is “in the process of taking some actions.”

Dow said he plans to meet with his caucus and release more information Tuesday.

“There’s a lot of misinformation out there about who said what when, when it was said and who reacted in which way,” Dow said. “So I want a chance to explain to my caucus first. There are a lot of misinformed people in my own caucus.”

Isgro, meanwhile, said in emailed statements that he had “a massive outcry of support from Republicans around the state including the legislature.”

“I would not want to be in senator Dow’s position today since he did not even poll his caucus before claiming to speak on behalf of them,” Isgro wrote.

One of the controversial tweets read, “We need a serious talk not only about vaccination but migration. Portland, & many US cities, have homeless crises driven by asylum claims & a record number of migrants crossing the border from countries lacking vaccinations. This causes certain diseases to return.”

A spokeswoman for the Maine CDC told the Portland Press Herald Friday there are no links between immigrant populations in Maine and vaccination rates or disease outbreaks.

Jason Savage, executive director of the Maine GOP, and Chair Demi Kouzounas did not respond to requests for comment Monday on whether the party will be responding to calls for action from Senate Republicans or other critics of Isgro.

Meanwhile, John Bott, spokesman for the Maine House Republicans, also released a statement Monday deflecting the controversy and instead taking aim at Maine Democrats.

“Maine House Republicans are concerned about the ever-increasing number of Democratic proposals that spend 99.995% of all available revenues, borrow against our children’s future, increase local property taxes and threaten the Maine economy,” the statement said.

Bott said House Republican Leader Rep. Kathleen Dillingham, R-Oxford, and Assistant Republican Leader Rep. Trey Stewart, R-Presque Isle, had approved the statement and were not interested in commenting further.

Some Republicans around the state said Isgro’s tweets are not a reflection on his work as mayor and seemed not to be bothered by their content.

Charlie Webster, chairman of the Franklin County commissioners and a former Maine GOP chair, said he didn’t see a problem with Isgro “saying what his opinion is” but historically only the chair of the party has made such statements.

He also said for the last few election cycles there has been “some kind of riff between the party structure and the elected leadership in the Legislature,” so he was not surprised by the criticism from Senate Republicans.

“What I know about Nick is he’s done a pretty good job as mayor from what I can see,” Webster said. “I can see he’s a pretty thoughtful guy. He’s a fiscal conservative. I haven’t followed (the controversy over the tweets last week), but I think only the chair should be making statements on behalf of the party.”

Isgro, who is in his second term as Waterville mayor, also faced a recall last summer driven by residents who were upset over previous social media comments the mayor made, including a tweet telling the survivor of a Florida school shooting to “eat it.”

During the weeks leading up to the recall, he falsely claimed Waterville city councilors were working behind residents’ backs to craft a 13 percent tax increase and trying to use the recall as a distraction from city budget woes.

State Sen. Scott Cyrway, R-Albion, who represents Waterville, said he hadn’t seen the tweets from the GOP account and said it was too soon to say anything about Isgro’s leadership as vice chair of the GOP.

“I think he’s a smart individual,” Cyrway said. “I’ve always gotten along with him. I don’t know what he actually said or anything. I don’t know where he got his information from. I’m not him.”

Sen. Brad Farrin, R-Norridgewock, stopped short of criticizing Isgro but said in general “the extreme on both sides is crazy.”

“I think for the average person that’s trying to work and make a living, the bombastic stuff on both sides just turns people off, and I just stay out of it,” Farrin said.

The Maine Democratic Party did not respond to requests for comment late Monday.

Over the weekend, social media backlash to the mayor’s most recent comments gained steam as some critics also shared screenshots of Isgro’s membership in a Facebook group called Fans of Christian Europe, a group that recently included a post in support of a mass shooter who killed 50 people at mosques in New Zealand.

“It’s shocking that the Mayor of Waterville and Vice Chairman of @MaineGOP is a member of a page that advocates terrorism,” wrote Andy O’Brien, a former state lawmaker and the communications director of the Maine AFL-CIO, in a tweet from a personal Twitter account Saturday.


Lance Dutson, a Republican consultant who has worked on high-profile election campaigns, including for U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and former Maine Secretary of State Charlie Summers, also shared images from the group saying, “This is the Facebook hate group Nick Isgro is a member of and promotes, supporting the New Zealand mosque shooter. To repeat: the Vice Chair of the Maine GOP belongs to a group that SUPPORTS the New Zealand shooter. Republicans, it’s time to make a change.”


But others on social media came to Isgro’s defense, saying those criticisms were “guilt by association.”

In an email responding to those criticisms on social media, Isgro said, “It’s asinine to expect that I can be held responsible for every insane thing someone posts on Facebook in pages with thousands of people on them.”

“It’s dangerous — and also illegal — to make claims implying I support terrorism and trying to connect me to it in the public’s mind, going as far as taking a social media post supportive of a terrorist attack and editing it to make it look like I was the author,” Isgro wrote.

Isgro did not respond to a phone call seeking additional comment.

 

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368
[email protected] 
Twitter: @rachel_ohm


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