Paul Gokukin addresses Androscoggin County commissioners Wednesday night at the county building in Auburn. He demonstrates how his shirt is as effective as a cloth mask against COVID-19 and said he believes they are basically useless, rendering the mask mandate ineffective. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

AUBURN — With spectators shouting “cowards” and “shame,” a divided Androscoggin County Commission voted to table a resolution rejecting the COVID-19 mask mandate ordered by Gov. Janet Mills.

The 4-3 vote came after more than two hours of debate among commissioners and the testimony of nearly two dozen residents from Androscoggin, Kennebec and Oxford counties. All spoke in favor of the resolution, presented by Commissioner Isaiah Lary of Wales, which called the executive orders from the governor a violation of the Maine Constitution.

The resolution resolved that “all citizens, businesses and visitors of Androscoggin County are free to wear or not wear masks or other similar devices, and to peaceably assemble for religious or secular reasons, according to the dictates of their own conscience and preference.”

In his nine-minute presentation of his resolution, Lary questioned the governor’s constitutional authority to issue mandates, citing the nondelegation doctrine, which says the legislative branch may not cede its powers to make laws to the executive branch.

Members of the audience at the Androscoggin County Commission meeting listen Wednesday night to Sheriff Eric Samson explain there are too many people in the room, according to the state’s executive order on COVID-19, and more than half would have to leave and watch the proceedings remotely in another part of the county building in Auburn. They were orderly and obliged. The majority were not wearing masks. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

He also questioned the science of wearing masks.

“The governor and especially the state Legislature have exceeded their constitutional authority and it must stop and it must stop now,” Lary said. “This resolution points out the lack of science behind cloth masks, but more importantly it’s very hard to find opposing science through censorship by the big tech media and the mainstream media.”

Commissioners Noel Madore of Lewiston and John Michael of Auburn questioned if commissioners even had the power to restrict the mask mandate and allow visitors to wear or not wear masks.

“Counties have no authority to set laws,” Madore said. “We have absolutely no power to disown any executive order in the state of Maine.”

While not binding, Lary said his ultimate goal was to challenge the executive orders in the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, hoping other counties would join Androscoggin.

After listening to all the public comments, which he said he mostly agreed with, Michael offered his own competing resolution, which did not go as far as Lary’s proposal. Using the Great Barrington Declaration as a backdrop, he called on the state to use all scientific research and “not merely CDC guidelines that may be political.”

Androscoggin County Commissioner Isaiah Lary of Wales argues a point during Wednesday’s commission meeting in Auburn. Contrasting the previous meeting where several commissioners did not wear a mask, he was the only one to not wear one at Wednesday’s meeting. In the background is Commissioner Roland Poirier of Lewiston who was wearing two. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

It say “the old and affirm should be protected as a priority through the use of focused protection. Also in addition to simple hygiene measures, that all schools and universities should open, extracurricular activities should resume and restaurants, other businesses and cultural activities should all open.”

“This does not address the core issue that the Legislature gave the governor this power,” Lary said. “It’s unconstitutional. If you want this lockdown to end, you need to vote on this now.”

Commissioner Terri Kelly of Mechanic Falls proposed the postponement until the next meeting in two weeks so commissioners could consider the two competing resolutions. The authors of both resolutions, Lary and Michael, did not want to delay a vote, but Kelly, Madore, Chairwoman Sally Christner of Turner and Roland Poirier Lewiston voted to table, while Lary, Michael and Brian Ames of Lewiston opposed the postponement.

The more than two dozen spectators in attendance promised to return to the next commission meeting.

Members of the public who spoke were passionate in their belief that mandatory mask wearing was not preventing the spread of COVID-19, was affecting the mental health of children and the elderly, and the orders violated their rights as citizens. The wearing of masks is overkill and the economic effect is overwhelming, some said.

“Something is wrong,” William Kenniston of Livermore Falls said. “We were told that once we flatten the curve, it would all be over. Well, it hasn’t. I’d like to know what science Gov. Mills and (Center for Disease Control Director) Dr. Shah is listening to.”

Lynn Hodgjkins, a pastor from Poland, complained about elder abuse and the inability to enjoy “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

“The legislative process has shut down,” Paul Madore of Lewiston said. “You can’t petition them. Our right to petition has been crushed.”

“I’ve seen the harm that this has had on families,” Richard Poulin of Sabattus said. “It’s creating hardships.”

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