UPDATE: March 17, 11 a.m. ― Maine state House candidate Leslie Gibson (R) dropped out of the race on Friday after facing strong backlash for maligning student activists who survived last month’s school shooting in Parkland, Florida.
Gibson had been running unopposed, but his comments prompted Democrat Eryn Gilchrist ― who has never run for office before ― to jump into the race just before the filing deadline Thursday. She was joined by Republican contender Thomas Martin Jr., a former state senator.
“I am not walking away with my head hung low. I am walking away with my head held high,” Gibson told the Portland Press Herald.
A Republican candidate for the Maine legislature apologized after attacking two students who survived the Parkland high school massacre, calling one a “skinhead lesbian” and another a “bald-faced liar.”
Leslie Gibson, who’s running unopposed in this year’s election for the Maine House 57th District, deleted tweets bashing the students and wrote a letter to 18-year-old Emma Gonzalez, who he had called a “skinhead lesbian.” Gonzalez identifies as bisexual.
“I would like to extend to you my most sincere apology for how I addressed you. It was wrong and unacceptable,” Gibson said in a tweet. “You are doing work that is important to you. I would like to extend my hand in friendship and understanding to you.”
Gibson didn’t apologize for calling 17-year-old David Hogg a “bald-faced liar.”
Gonzalez and Hogg have been among the most vocal student advocates for stricter gun control since the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. Hogg appeared on CNN this week to urge President Donald Trump to prove he isn’t “owned” by the National Rifle Association. Gonzalez was honored by LGBTQ rights group Equality Florida for her activism.
Gibson, a lifetime NRA member, took to Twitter to attack Gonzalez after seeing an article in The Hill about the teen surpassing the NRA in Twitter followers.
“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,” he wrote.
In another tweet, Gibson claimed Gonzalez should not be called a “survivor” because she was “in a completely different part of the school” during the shooting. Gibson also called Hogg a “moron” and accused him of lying after the student said NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch “owns” members of Congress.
“Hogg doesn’t get a pass when he blatantly lies,” Gibson tweeted.
The candidate’s insults were met with outrage. State Sen. Amy Volk (R) called for Gibson to withdraw from the state House race, as did Phil Barlett, chairman of the Maine Democratic Party, who blasted Gibson’s comments as “disgusting and not representative of Maine values,” reported the Sun Journal.
As criticism mounted, Gibson scrubbed the tweets from his Twitter account and apologized to Gonzalez. He later made his personal and campaign Twitter accounts private.
He told a Sun Journal reporter that while “it was not appropriate to single out the Parkland students … I stand firm in my defense of our constitutional rights.”
“I am very passionate about protecting our constitutional rights from those who seek their elimination,” Gibson said.
Gibson is the only declared candidate for a state House district where the Republican incumbent has already served the maximum number of terms allowed by law. Democrats have until Thursday to come up with a candidate. The filing deadline for independent candidates is June 1.
Sara Boboltz contributed reporting.