Maine GOP chair repeatedly dodges questions about Trump’s ballot removal

Joel Stetkis repeatedly refused to explain the legal basis for his objection to former president’s removal during persistent grilling by CNN anchor Boris Sanchez

Joe Sommerlad
Wednesday 03 January 2024 14:37 GMT
Maine GOP chair refuses to explain opposition to Trump's removal from ballot in CNN interview

Maine Republican Party chair Joel Stetkis endured a car crash interview with CNN on Tuesday where he repeatedly refused to offer any explanation as to why he objects to Donald Trump being removed from the state’s GOP primary ballot.

The Pine Tree State is scheduled to vote on who it wants as the Republican nominee to challenge President Joe Biden on Super Tuesday on 5 March.

But, currently, Mr Trump is out of the running in the state.

Maine’s secretary of state Shenna Bellows ruled on 28 December that Mr Trump would be blocked from the ballot in her state, as he has been in Colorado, under Section Three of the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution, which prohibits anyone who has violated their oath of office by engaging in an insurrection from running for office.

Maine Republicans reacted angrily to Ms Bellows’ decision and immediately vowed to challenge it, as has the Trump campaign, which filed its appeal on Tuesday.

But when asked repeatedly by CNN anchor Boris Sanchez to explain the specific legal basis for his objection to the secretary of state’s ruling, Mr Stetkis was unable to provide an answer – other than to claim the move was anti-democratic in principle.

Speaking to the network’s News Central show from his home in Augusta via Skype, Mr Stetkis said: “I think the simplest way we can put this really is you know, we’ve got an unelected bureaucrat who likes to pretend that she’s a lawyer, and she’s literally taking away the voters’ choices in Maine.

“You know, here in Maine and across the country, regardless of you know whether they like Donald Trump or not, you know, Bellows is wrong on so many levels, and it’s getting to the point of really being embarrassing.”

Pushed by Mr Sanchez – who remained patient and amused throughout – to elaborate on the precise nature of his opposition, Mr Stetkis insisted: “Her decision process was just wrong.”

Pressed again, he added: “Well, this has so much more to do with the, you know, the suppression of the vote as opposed to Donald Trump. We would – we would oppose this decision, regardless of what Republican [was running].”

Asked by Mr Sanchez why he considered Ms Bellows’ ruling “arbitrary”, Mr Stetkis continued: “We’re just opposed to her taking away the rights of the voters to be able to choose the leader that they want to vote for or not.”

Boris Sanchez interviews Joel Stetkis on CNN’s News Central (CNN)

Eventually wearying of the anchor’s persistence, the state GOP chair fell back to arguing: “No matter how many times, no matter how you’re asked, her decision is completely wrong.”

He even added that numerous conservative lawyers had already “given plenty of legal argument on why she’s wrong”, implying that it was therefore unnecessary for him to do so.

Finally relenting, Mr Sanchez wrapped up the segment, pointing out that the GOP chair had failed to offer any reasoning for his argument.

“I think there’s a legal argument to be made. It doesn’t seem like you have articulated the exact legal argument and the flaw that you see in her decision,” the CNN anchor said.

“Nevertheless, Joel, we’re grateful to have you and get your perspective. Thank you so much for being with us. And happy new year.”

In announcing her verdict on Mr Trump’s candidacy last week, Ms Bellows wrote: “I am mindful that no secretary of state has ever deprived a presidential candidate of ballot access based on Section Three of the Fourteenth Amendment.

“I am also mindful, however, that no presidential candidate has ever before engaged in insurrection.”

She has since reported receiving “threatening communications” from voters loyal to Mr Trump.

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