Speaker of the House Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, addresses the Representatives at the Maine State House Tuesday, June 27, 2023. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Editor’s note: Park officials said Saturday that Acadia plans to stay open through Sunday, Oct. 1 if the federal government shuts down.

No elected official, and certainly not the leader of a legislative body, should tell people they should be “storming the capitol.” Full stop. 

In this political climate, after the horrific events of Jan. 6, 2021 at the U.S. Capitol, the phrase “storming the capitol” carries a specific connotation that is both violent and undemocratic. We’ve seen how similar language has incited real violence. Therefore, it has no place in the vocabulary of our political leaders. 

So it should almost go without saying, but still needs to be said, that Maine Speaker of the House Rachel Talbot Ross was wrong when she used these words about storming institutions – twice in the same set of remarks – as part of a criticism of the Maine Department of Education. Those comments, which were made at a Juneteenth event at the University of Southern Maine, were first reported by the Maine Wire. 

Talbot Ross owes no apology for her frustration with the department’s slow movement to fully implement a 2021 law she sponsored to require African American studies and the history of genocide be included Maine’s K-12 education standards. But no amount of legitimate frustration can excuse a call about “storming” a legislative building, regardless of intent. 

“Speaker Talbot Ross stands firmly by her statement that black history education is sorely lacking in Maine’s schools, but she genuinely regrets her choice in language,” Talbot Ross spokesperson Mary Erin Casale told the BDN editorial board in a statement Thursday. “It was never her intent to encourage anyone to repeat the events that occurred on the Jan. 6 insurrection. Her advocacy on this issue stems directly from her lived experience and her fight to create equity in the story we tell of our nation’s history to our students.”

Today’s political discourse is fraught with inflammatory language, threats of violence and actual violence. Look no further than another story this week involving speaker Talbot Ross being targeted with extreme flyers that were posted around her neighborhood along with a message written in chalk outside her home. The flyers, which related to an abortion bill she sponsored for Gov. Janet Mills, included her picture, her address and a picture of her home, and called her “lower than child moelsters [sic] and rapists.”

As Casale told us about the flyers, “These hateful attacks and tactics of intimidation have no place in Maine politics.” We agree. Being able to criticize our leaders is a good and necessary part of democracy. But these flyers went beyond that. 

We say all of this not to compare the flyers to Talbot Ross’ comments last week, but to illustrate the state of the political climate in which she made those remarks, and to emphasize the care with which all elected officials should be choosing their words. Everyone needs to avoid false equivalencies, but also should be able to recognize the current political tenor and agree that there are still rhetorical lines that should not be crossed. “We should be storming the capitol” is such a line.

“The Speaker’s bill that requires African American studies, Native American history and the history of genocide be integrated in to the state’s learning system has not yet had its intended impact, which is deeply disappointing for educators and for the Speaker,” Casale continued in the statement about Talbot Ross’ comments last week. “Looking forward, she plans on both apologizing for her choice in language and engaging with DOE directly for an improved outcome.”

We’re glad the speaker’s office has now communicated regret for her statement about storming the capitol, and we hope that the planned apology for her choice in language happens sooner rather than later — as it is now more than a week after the remarks were made. 

While she has now made clear it was not her intent, speaker Talbot Ross’ comments last Monday evoked the violence seen on Jan. 6. We appreciate her expression of regret and hope all elected officials will avoid this type of irresponsible language moving forward. 

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Opinion Editor Susan Young, Deputy Opinion Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked for the BDN...