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Candidate’s Post Politicizes Deaths

Hartford — A Woodstock police officer who is hoping again to challenge U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., recently took down a Facebook post blaming Democrats for mass shootings in the United States after it was called into question by a media organization and, subsequently, Vermont’s Republican Party chairman.

Republican Mark Donka, a former selectman in Hartford, posted a link on his Facebook page to a blog post entitled “Why Are All Mass Murderers Democrats?” on Friday, according to a screenshot posted on the website of Seven Days, the Burlington-based weekly.

The post on PatriotUpdate.com was an extended version of one on a website maintained by conservative activist Samuel Wurzelbacher, nicknamed “Joe the Plumber” during the 2008 presidential race.

The post was apparently updated after the California shooting rampage last month in which 22-year-old Elliot Rodger killed seven people, including himself, and injured 13 others.

“Liberals don’t respect life and teach an entitlement mentality,” the post on PatriotUpdate.com reads. “They think they deserve everything without working for it and when they don’t get it rely on violence for revenge. Liberals have created monsters. ... You liberal f---s. Nice going.”

Donka, who recently said he is running again for Congress, defended posting the link in an interview with Seven Days Friday afternoon.

“Do I think it’s appropriate as far as me saying something on my personal website? Sure, I can say what I want,” he told Seven Days . “Like I said, a lot of it was true.”

When asked whether he was planning to take it down, Donka said he would have to “look at it again.”

When reached for comment, Vermont Republican Party Chairman David Sunderland told Seven Days that it was “disappointing” that Donka was associating himself “with that type of language and tone of language.”

By Monday, the post had been removed from Donka’s page.

Messages for Donka left via phone and email were not returned Monday afternoon.

A spokesman for Welch declined to comment.

Donka, who served one term on the Hartford Selectboard and previously worked as a police officer in Hartford, lost to Welch in 2012. Welch, now a four-term incumbent, received 72 percent of the vote, while Donka, the GOP nominee, garnered 23 percent.

Stern’s Quality Produce owner Keith Stern, who encouraged Donka to run again, called the Facebook posting a mistake but said the candidate could recover if he sticks to issues that are important to him.

“I think he should just focus on the issues and leave it at that,” Stern said. “I think there’s too much accusations and name-calling and that sort of thing going on, and it’s not productive at all, and I don’t know why he bothered doing that. If Mark focuses on his issues and the solutions he has to health care and reducing the cost of college tuition and a few other things, then he has a really good shot at beating Peter Welch.”

In an interview with the Valley News Monday, Sunderland said he had not talked directly to Donka about the post. He said he talked to Donka’s campaign manager at some point and suggested that the post was not appropriate.

“It’s certainly inappropriate and not the kind of message that Mark wants … and certainly it is not something that the Republican Party can get behind,” he said.

When asked whether the post had affected how much support the party would lend to Donka, Sunderland said he wasn’t sure.

“I would say it’s uncertain at this point, just because I haven’t been able to follow up directly with Mark since Friday,” Sunderland said. “I believe Mark is a good man and I think he’s a good Vermonter and he wants to do the best for his state and his country. I think this was an error by an inexperienced candidate.”

Sunderland said the party would support whoever wins the Republican primary. Although Donka is the only candidate to come forward thus far, Sunderland said a few other people have expressed interest.

Maggie Cassidy can be reached at mcassidy@vnews.com or 603-727-3220.