AUGUSTA, Maine — A newly adopted official platform of the Maine Republican Party incorporating key principles of the “Tea Party” movement has sparked a debate among some GOP faithful.

Democratic leaders, meanwhile, are hoping to use the new, more conservative GOP platform as political fodder as they court moderate and unenrolled voters in the race for Maine governor.

During last weekend’s Republican state convention, delegates rejected the proposed party platform espousing general GOP themes in favor of an alternative, highly specific platform that echoes many of the issues raised by Tea Party activists.

Some of the more controversial policy positions include:
• Elimination of the Department of Education and the Federal Reserve.
• Federal rejection of some international treaties, including the United Nations Treaty on the Rights of the Child, which some conservatives believe could infringe on parental rights.
• Elimination of the “Motor Voter Act” allowing people to register to vote while obtaining a driver’s license, which some claim opens the door to voter fraud.
• Denying any benefits or eventual citizenship to those caught in the country illegally.
• Describing health care as “a service” rather than a right.

The overarching Republican themes of smaller government, states’ rights, individualism and lower taxes are still present in the party’s new platform.

The alternative platform was endorsed Saturday by most of the roughly 2,000 delegates at the convention at Portland Expo.

Charlie Webster, chairman of the Maine GOP, dismissed any suggestion that the platform or the way it was approved was a “big deal.” Delegates wanted a more specific platform, so they opted for the alternative version, which was offered by Knox County Republicans, he said.

“Maybe not every single phrase, but this generally represents what most Maine Republicans and Maine’s working class support,” Webster said Monday.
Democrats are hoping Webster is wrong, however.

On Monday afternoon, Arden Manning with the Maine Democratic Party was calling on the seven GOP gubernatorial candidates to reject the new platform.

“Republican candidates for governor need to make a decision: Do they stand with the fringe that has taken over their party or do they stand with mainstream Mainers?” wrote Manning, head of the Democrats’ 2010 campaign.

A few hours later, in an e-mail appeal for donations, Manning said “the new GOP platform reads like an inflammatory conspiracy theory written by paranoid Tea Party members.”

But longtime GOP activist Mary Adams said she wasn’t worried about scaring off any voters — or, for that matter, about what “the enemy” thinks of the new platform.
Instead, Adams said she believes the new platform could invigorate the party and appeal to disenfranchised Republicans and unenrolled voters who have grown tired of both political parties.

Adams served on the subcommittee that came up with the original draft platform, and she introduced the party platform at the convention. But the Garland resident and well-known tax activist said she ended up voting for the alternative, which she said better represented the concerns about the direction of the country.

“There were so many new people there,” Adams said, adding that the platform “was like a fresh breeze blowing through that old building.”

Rep. Josh Tardy, a Newport Republican who serves as House minority leader, said there are elements of the platform that he supports and elements that he does not support. For instance, he said while he understands some people’s desire to eliminate the Department of Education, he does not believe it is practical or politically possible.

Tardy said he also heard numerous convention attendees express frustration that they were unable to read the alternative platform before voting. Webster also acknowledged that he was unaware of the language calling for the elimination of the Department of Education before Monday.

But Tardy said party platforms are not overly relevant in campaigns, adding that he was never asked about the GOP platforms during his runs for office.

“At the end of the day, I didn’t get too worried about the platform,” Tardy said.“Candidates have historically agreed with some but certainly not all of a party platform.”

But Dan Billings, a Waterville attorney who is active in GOP politics, expressed concerns that some of the more extreme language in the platform could come back to bite the eventual Republican gubernatorial candidate.

“This year, there is a lot of frustration and anger with the things going on, and I think this is an expression of that,” said Billings, who also was a convention delegate. “But I’m concerned some parts of it could be used against our candidates in the fall. And that’s unfortunate because the role of the party is to help candidates, not to hurt candidates.”

Overall, however, Billings questioned the need for platforms, calling them an “artifact of history.” The most accurate reflection of the policy priorities of Maine’s Republican faithful, he said, will be evident when the GOP gubernatorial nominee is chosen on June 8.

“My general position is we ought to stop doing these,” Billing said.