Maine state House of Representatives candidate Leslie Gibson’s social media posts against teenage activists sparked widespread online outrage.
UPDATE at 6:19 p.m.
The Republican who came under fire for attacking teen anti-gun activists has dropped out of the race for a Maine state House of Representatives seat.
Leslie Gibson of Sabattus announced Friday he would withdraw his campaign for the 57th District seat. He had been unopposed until Thursday, when he picked up two challengers following widespread backlash against harsh comments he made on social media against two seniors from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
“I am not walking away with my head hung low. I am walking away with my head held high,” Gibson told the Lewiston Sun Journal on Friday. “It’s the best thing for everybody.”
Democrats and Republicans alike reacted strongly to Gibson’s remarks, with a contender from each party announcing they would run against him.
Eryn Gilchrist, a Democrat (pictured above), and Thomas Martin Jr., a former Republican state senator, each announced their candidacies for the seat representing Sabattus and Greene, where they both reside. Both filed paperwork in the state capital in Augusta on Thursday, the deadline for party candidates to appear on the general election ballot Nov. 6.
Gibson sparked an outcry on Twitter and Facebook after posting his comments in which he called Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School senior Emma Gonzalez a “skinhead lesbian” and accused her classmate David Hogg of lying.
Gonzalez and Hogg are among a group of outspoken student leaders from MSD High School, where 14 of their fellow students and three staff members were killed during a Feb. 14 shooting rampage at the school in Parkland, Florida. The students have been speaking out against gun violence, criticizing Congress for failing to pass stricter gun legislation, and calling out the pervasive influence of the National Rifle Association (NRA).
As part of this growing movement, thousands of students walked out of their schools Wednesday to protest school gun violence and to call for legislative action regulating firearms. Even students in Maine, whose schools were closed due to heavy snow, joined in public demonstrations around the state. Some whose school days were cancelled waited until Thursday to conduct additional walkouts, according to the Bangor Daily News.
Gonzalez, who wears a close-cropped haircut and has identified herself as bisexual, and Hogg, who recently said on CNN that numerous members of Congress are in the pocket of the NRA, raised the ire of Gibson, a U.S. Navy veteran and reported NRA life member.
On Facebook, Gibson called Hogg a “baldfaced liar” for saying NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch “owns these Congressmen” and she “doesn’t care about these children’s lives.” Gibson took a harsher tone toward Gonzalez in a Twitter post on Monday: “There is nothing about this skinhead lesbian that impresses me and there is nothing that she has to say unless you’re a frothing at the mouth moonbat.”
Scores of Twitter users erupted with angry messages condemning Gibson, who apologized to Gonzalez and closed his personal and campaign accounts to public viewing. Gonzalez has not responded.
Hogg, however, urged Mainers of any stripe to run against Gibson in a tweet on Wednesday.
Hey freinds in Maine! Who wants to run against this hate loving politician he's is running UNOPPOSED RUN AGAINST HIM I don't care what party JUST DO IT. https://t.co/vRR7p1ZHKf
— David Hogg (@davidhogg111) March 14, 2018
Hogg then retweeted the Maine Democratic Party’s message on Thursday announcing Gilchrist’s candidacy.
The 28-year-old Gilchrist said she never harbored intentions to run for public office, but Gibson’s vitriolic remarks about the activist teens spurred her to action.
“I thought that the people of Greene and Sabattus deserved a representative who will respect people and try to work through their differences to make our lives better,” Gilchrist said in a statement released by the state Democratic Party. “That’s what I pledge to do if I am lucky enough to be elected, and I look forward to working hard over the next several months to earn the trust and support of people throughout my community.”
Martin – who will face Gibson in the Republican primary on June 12 if Gibson remains in the race – echoed the sentiments of his potential Democratic opponent.
“After those recent unfortunate comments, I couldn’t sit back,” Martin told the Lewiston Sun Journal on Thursday.
Martin, a 52-year-old contractor who recently moved to Greene, served one term as a state senator from Benton beginning in 2011 but lost his reelection attempt the following year.
“There’s enough division in our state and country,” Martin said, stressing the need for civil discourse because “our words and actions have consequences” in public debates.
Maine Democratic leaders are fully behind the run by Gilchrist, a native of Connecticut who works at a medical device company and graduated from Bates College in Lewiston.
Maine Democratic Party chair Phil Bartlett said in a statement the party is “excited” for Gilchrist to join the race.
“We know that she will be a champion for the people of Sabattus and Green in the State House and will work hard to ensure that what happens in Augusta improves the lives of her neighbors and community members,” Bartlett said.
Democratic Speaker of the Maine House of Representatives Sara Gideon agreed they “could not be happier” about Gilchrist’s candidacy.
“She is a concerned member of her community who cares about the future of her neighbors – and, like many other Democrats across Maine, she’s now stepping up to help them,” Gideon said in a statement.
The Maine Dems said David Gilbert, the Democratic chair of the Sabattus Town Planning Board, also collected and submitted signatures on short notice to place his name on the ballot, but that he plans to withdraw in favor of Gilchrist.
The Maine Green Independent Party announced on social media Wednesday that it was “getting a lot of requests to run a candidate in House District 57” but anyone interested would have to win a nomination by write-in vote during the primary election in June.
The District 57 seat will open when its current occupant, Republican Stephen Wood, steps down after completing his fourth term, the legal maximum.