Maine’s Democrat Senate candidate, Sara Gideon, is downplaying her awareness about sexual misconduct allegations leveled against a former state representative and teacher from two years ago.
Gideon, who has served as Maine’s House speaker since 2016, was reportedly aware of sexual misconduct allegations against former state Rep. Dillon Bates (D-Westbrook) but chose to conduct business as usual with Bates “for several months” until the allegations were made public in August 2018.
Gideon also at one point in June 2018 invited Bates to perform the national anthem before the state legislature, while aware of the allegations against him, according to a video released Wednesday by the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC):
CHILLING NEW VIDEO: @SaraGideon knew her colleague Dillon Bates had been accused of preying on high school girls.
— The Senate Majority (@NRSC) October 7, 2020
In an interview Thursday on Maine Public Radio’s Maine Calling, Gideon described the knowledge she had prior to August 2018 as “nothing but a rumor.”
“There was nothing but a rumor, and so, look, at that point, we needed to see and hear from someone, and when we did, as soon as we did, I immediately asked for his resignation,” Gideon said.
Then-Rep. Bates had resigned as a theater teacher from the all-girls high school Maine Girls’ Academy in November 2017 reportedly “under suspicious circumstances,” according to an August 3, 2018, report in a Portland-based magazine formerly known as The Bollard.
The report details an accusation against Bates, who turned 30 years old in 2018, that he became sexually involved with a Maine Girls’ Academy student while he taught there. The Bollard report references multiple corroborating interviews, all anonymous, including one with the student who initially leveled the charges against him.
The report further alleges that Bates, who was also a female track coach at a separate high school, engaged in “at least three romantic and/or sexual relationships with high school girls over the past half decade.”
When Bates quit his teaching job in November 2017, the state’s health department was notified at that time of the allegations against him and opened an investigation into the matter, according to News Center Maine, but the department ultimately could not find sufficient evidence “to meet the statutory threshold of a finding of child abuse or neglect.”
Later, Portland police also investigated the matter, but the case was closed pending further developments.
Despite the lack of findings from the health department and police, Bates also resigned as track coach in August 2018 and the following month his teaching license renewal was denied.
Additionally, the day the report had been published in The Bollard, Gideon called for Bates’s resignation as a state lawmaker.
“I cannot condone this behavior, I value the voices of the young women who came forward and have requested that Representative Bates resign from office immediately,” Gideon said in an August 3, 2018, statement.
During the Maine Calling interview Thursday, the interviewer recalled Gideon, the Maine House’s highest ranking member, deciding not to pursue the “rumors” she had heard about Bates prior to them becoming public.
“There were no individuals,” Gideon said. “There was nothing until that Bollard article was actually published that said that individuals had come forward to that reporter. And before that, there was nothing but a rumor.”
Gideon’s spokeswoman confirmed to News Center Maine that the speaker had been aware of the allegations against Bates for “several months” and said that Gideon’s team had confronted Bates and questioned him and “other parties” but that they had been unable to find any substantive claims.
The spokeswoman said that when they had initially heard about the misconduct, “they put Bates on notice, warning if any new information surfaced indicating there could be truth to what was then a rumor, Gideon would ask him to step down.”
The question remains as to why — if Gideon had knowledge of potential sexual misconduct between Bates and high school students — she would opt not to pursue it with her own formal investigation.
After the emergence of the video of Bates singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” on the House floor alongside Gideon, NRSC spokesman Nathan Brand commented, “Gideon knew about the allegations made against Dillon Bates that he preyed on underage girls. … Investigations were underway, he was fired from his school where he taught, and Gideon was aware of his actions, yet she stood and applauded him.”
“Mainers can’t trust Gideon to do the right thing,” he added.
Gideon’s campaign did not respond to request for comment.
Write to Ashley Oliver at firstname.lastname@example.org.