AUGUSTA, Maine — Seven conservative lawmakers were removed from their committees on Monday after they entered the Maine State House without wearing masks in violation of legislative rules that go beyond state recommendations.
House Speaker Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddeford, made the decision to punish the lawmakers after a video released by Rep. Laurel Libby, R-Auburn, showed her and six others entering the main lobby of the capitol building unmasked. After a Capitol Police officer approached the group to explain the rules, the group went past police and legislative staff to enter the building.
Those members and others who were maskless were not told to leave after the conversation, said Assistant House Minority Leader Joel Stetkis, R-Canaan, who also went into the State House Monday without a mask through a side entrance near Gov. Janet Mills’ office.
Consequences were clear by Monday afternoon when Fecteau sent letters to the lawmakers on the video, informing them they will be stripped of their committee assignments effective Tuesday and be replaced by Democratic members. Along with Libby, they are Reps. Heidi Sampson, R-Alfred, Sherman Hutchins, R-Penobscot, Chris Johansen, R-Monticello, Michael Lemelin, R-Chelsea, Jim Thorne, R-Carmel, and John Andrews, L-Paris.
“I am absolutely disinterested in having to engage in a tussle over face coverings and the like,” Fecteau wrote. “I simply will not tolerate attempts to devolve our institution into showmanship and political theater.”
It was unclear what the consequences of violating the mask rules would be after Democratic leaders on the Legislative Council voted along party lines last week to require them in the State House. They said it was unclear how many lawmakers have been vaccinated against COVID-19, but Republicans protested the new rules by noting they go past the Democratic governor’s move to repeal the mask mandate for unvaccinated people as of Monday.
House GOP leadership made it clear before that vote on Thursday they did not expect members to follow the policy. Stetkis said Monday he knew he was not going to wear a mask at the State House but declined to say if he knew other lawmakers would be definitely following suit. Libby and Andrews said they were aware of the Legislative Council’s policy but had not heard about any potential consequences prior to Fecteau’s email.
“We went into it without expectations of exactly what would happen,” she said. “We were simply following the science and doing the people’s work that we’ve been elected to do. We didn’t have any preconceived notions of what would come out of it.”
The rebuke will have little immediate effect on legislative business, since committee work is slated to effectively end later this week. Fecteau’s letter did not say how long the Democrats would hold the Republican slots or what would happen if members showed up without masks next week when the chambers reconvene.
It is also not clear how Republicans will respond. Reached after Fecteau disciplined the lawmakers, House Republican spokesperson John Bott referred a reporter to a recording of last week’s meeting and argued against the Legislature’s mask rules.
“Legislators are not above following the same rules that the public, the people we represent, must follow,” he wrote.