ELLSWORTH — A flyer distributed by a group run by state Rep. Larry Lockman (R-Amherst) created controversy when it arrived in the mailboxes of residents in several districts across the state last week, according to a report in the Portland Press Herald.
The mailer, from the Maine First Project, accuses Rep. Seth Berry (D-Bowdoinham) of voting to “allow the killings to continue in Portland,” saying that the city’s politicians “have made the city a magnet for violent illegals who have robbed, raped and murdered Maine people.”
The postcard was sent out in five legislative districts, although Lockman declined to say which ones. In an early-morning email on Sept. 11 to supporters of the Maine First Project, which sent out the flyer, Lockman asked for money.
“To help us send out more postcards like this one,” Lockman said.
Berry voted against Lockman’s bill that would have levied fines of $500 against “sanctuary cities.” These are municipalities where law enforcement officials are prohibited from inquiring about a resident’s immigration status. Lockman’s bill failed to pass either the House or Senate.
The glossy mailer references the deaths of Trey Arsenault and Freddy Akoa, two men who were killed in separate incidents in 2015.
The man convicted in Arsenault’s death had been granted asylum in the United States and had pleaded guilty to misdemeanors prior to his conviction.
The immigration status of the three men convicted in Akoa’s death is unclear. All had prior convictions for at least one crime, mostly instances of drinking in public and disorderly conduct, according to previous Press Herald reports. One man had been convicted of theft.
Berry said the mailer was “a wild mischaracterization of what the bill actually would have done and the negative impact it would have had … (and) using scare tactics against our own neighbors is against the values on which America has been built.”
Lockman is running for re-election to a fourth term in District 137 against Democrat Douglas Bunker of Franklin. He is co-founder and president of the Maine First Project.
The Maine First Project is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization, a type of tax-exempt organization similar to a 501(c)(3) but allowed to engage in unlimited lobbying activity.
In an email to The American Tuesday morning, Lockman said the Maine First Project “is not now and never has been my personal campaign organization.” He said the flyer was not a campaign activity.
“It was about informing constituents that they’ve been betrayed by their representatives,” Lockman wrote, “and asking those constituents to contact their representative for an explanation.”
“So-called ‘sanctuary cities’ are the new Confederacy,” he continued, “in open rebellion against the federal government, no different than the slave states that seceded from the Union before the Civil War.
“And the mayors of these cities, including Ethan Strimling in Portland, remind me of segregationist George Wallace standing in the schoolhouse doorway, defying federal law enforcement officers.”
Despite furor over the high-profile killings, numerous studies have found that violent crime has fallen in a majority of metropolitan areas over the past four decades, while immigration has increased.
Lockman said the mailer was not meant to address crime rates, writing, “Every crime committed by an illegal alien is a 100 percent preventable crime.”
Lockman continued: “The murderers should have been deported long before they had any opportunity to kill. And they would have been deported were it not for the Portland ordinance that prohibits local cops from sharing information with federal immigration authorities.”
Lockman has taken an anti-immigration stance in previous statements. In a letter to the editor in The Ellsworth American in 2016, Lockman called for a “minimum five-year moratorium on ALL immigration into the United States.”
On its website, the Maine First Project describes itself as a nonpartisan organization with an agenda that includes ending the “refugee racket resettlement program,” repealing the “candidate welfare program (aka Clean Elections)” as well as efforts to “stop subsidizing worthless majors and redirect those funds to vocational/tech schooling.”
Lockman also runs a political action committee called the Maine First PAC, which had $9,200 cash-on-hand, according to campaign filings with the Maine Ethics Commission this summer. Over half of the money — $5,000 — was contributed by Brewer businessman Charles M. Hutchins.
Noel Gallagher of the Portland Press Herald contributed to this report.
Correction: An earlier version of this story contained an error. The Maine First Project is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization.