Maine GOP Forced To Apologize After Convention-Goers Vandalize An Eighth-Grade Classroom

Although Maine is known for its two moderate Republican senators — Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins — last week’s state GOP convention showed the growing influence of far-right activists. An “overwhelming majority of delegates” voted to “scrap the the proposed party platform and replace it with a document created by a group of Tea Party activists.” Maine Politics called it “a mix of right-wing fringe policies, libertarian buzzwords and outright conspiracy theories.”

The Republican convention was at the Portland Expo, but participants went to the nearby King Middle School to hold their caucuses. While there, they went through eighth-grade teacher Paul Clifford’s items, opened sealed boxes, stole a prized poster, and vandalized the room with Republican slogans. Some details on what they did:

— For seven years, Clifford has had “a collage-type poster depicting the history of the U.S. labor movement” on his classroom door. He uses it “to teach his students how to incorporate collages into their annual project on Norman Rockwell’s historic ‘Four Freedoms’ illustrations.” When Clifford returned to his classroom on Monday, after the GOP caucuses, the poster was gone; in its place was a sticker reading, “Working People Vote Republican.”

Republicans opened a “closed cardboard box they found near Clifford’s desk” and later objected to the fact that it contained copies of the U.S. Constitution donated to the school by the American Civil Liberties Union.

— After the caucuses, “rank-and-file Republicans who were upset by what they said they had seen in Clifford’s classroom” began calling the school, objecting to student art they had seen and a sticker on a filing cabinet reading “People for the American Way — Fight the Right.”

Although some of these callers said they supported the fact that Clifford’s poster had been stolen, the Maine Republican Party’s leadership has taken a more conciliatory approach, apologizing to the school and promising to return any stolen materials it finds. “King Middle School was kind enough to allow the (party) to use their facilities and we are deeply concerned about the lack of respect shown to the faculty,” said Maine GOP Executive Director Christie-Lee McNally. Local Knox County GOP Chairman William Chapman agreed that the vandalism was inappropriate, but added that it was disturbing that there was “nothing” in Clifford’s room “that appeared to give a more balanced view.”

Even some students are appalled by the GOP caucus-goers’ behavior. Simon Thompson, a graduate of Clifford’s eighth-grade class, wrote an open letter saying that Maine Republicans had gone too far:

I am an unapologetic graduate of Paul Clifford’s eighth grade English class at King Middle School. I participated in the “Four Freedoms” expedition, and I made a poster decrying war quite similar to the one with which the Republicans took issue.

I am not brainwashed, I am not a puppet, I am not anti-American or anti-religious, and I am certainly not stupid. Paul Clifford’s class taught me to think critically, to deductively reason and, if anything, to appreciate America for all the freedoms with which I am ensured on a daily basis.

Clearly, the Knox County Republicans — who took a cherished, pro-Labor poster from Clifford’s room and who now are making slanderous and uninformed claims about Clifford — have a different agenda.

The Portland Press Herald also said that it received “several” e-mails from students “decrying the behavior of their weekend guests.” “I am not being brainwashed in his class under any circumstances,” wrote one student. “I am being told that I have the right to my own opinion. … These people were adults and they were acting very immaturely.”