Sara Gideon, Maine’s Democrat House speaker and candidate for U.S. Senate, was pressed for Democrat votes in her nearly evenly divided legislature in 2018 at the time of her handling of sexual misconduct allegations against one of her Democrat members.
Rep. Dillon Bates (D-Westbrook), who abruptly resigned from his teaching job at an all-girls high school in November 2017, remained a state lawmaker until a local magazine called The Bollard published details on August 3, 2018, of accusations against Bates of sexual misconduct with a female student.
That day, Gideon publicly called for Bates’s resignation as a lawmaker despite having been aware of sexual misconduct allegations against Bates since at least as early as spring 2018, according to multiple local news reports.
Gideon subsequently faced questions for not taking action sooner; however, spokeswoman Mary-Erin Casale offered the justification that Gideon had asked Bates about the “rumor” and that he denied it.
“We confronted Rep. Bates immediately who denied the rumor and we were unable to otherwise find any substantiation, actual proof or evidence of any victims of the allegations,” Casale told News Center Maine at the time.
However, disturbed by the sequence of events and at the prompting of House Republican leadership, former Rep. Paula Sutton (R-Warren) brought forth two House orders in August 2018 to open an Ethics Committee investigation into both Bates and Gideon. The Democrats, led by Gideon, tabled the orders.
Sutton told Breitbart News, “I had serious concerns about the lack of transparency and how the timing was.” She also emphasized “the failing of due process” at the hands of Gideon, saying Bates had no opportunity to exonerate himself. “The fact that he resigned at Sara Gideon’s demands basically was unsettling to me because a person’s reputation is everything,” Sutton said.
Now, amid Gideon’s bid to unseat longtime incumbent Sen. Susan Collins, the speaker has come under renewed scrutiny for how she handled the sexual misconduct allegations, and several individuals familiar with the matter have indicated that the tense legislative makeup of the House may have influenced Gideon’s decision to personally address Bates rather than go through a formal process.
The legislature in 2018 comprised 74 Democrats, 70 Republicans, and seven independents, a narrow divide when 76 votes are needed for a majority.
“Dillon Bates was a necessary vote,” Deb Plowman, a former Republican state senator and policy director for the state’s Department of Education (DOE), told Breitbart News. “I’ve been in the legislature 16 total years. I’ve seen the 72–72 kind of thing. You actually can get things done when you’re that close. … That did not happen. This was raw power, and it had to be held together, and Dillon needed to be in his seat.”
DOE by spring 2018 had investigated Bates and concluded that he was ineligible to have a teaching certification by “gross moral misconduct” and a “lack of moral character,” according to a separate individual who was affiliated with DOE at the time. Bates’s teaching certificate was officially denied that September. The individual described the Maine House building as “a sieve” and affirmed that “certainly by March everyone in the building knew” about the allegations against Bates. Bates however continued to work as a lawmaker and also a girls’ track coach at another high school until August 2018.
That individual, too, conjectured on the pressure Gideon faced to achieve a Democrat majority: “The legislature was much more closely divided at that point than it is now. She needed every vote she had just to manage the House. … She didn’t want to lose [Bates’s] vote.”
“It was sort of, let’s hold our breath and wait, if we end up having to do something, we’ll do something. Until then we need you in your seat. We need you voting,” Plowman said of Gideon’s approach.
Two other individuals, then Republican colleagues of Gideon and closely familiar with the matter, both commented on Gideon’s strain for votes and said that any pending legislation would have been difficult to pass had Bates been dismissed, given the landscape of the House.
Gideon has stood by her decision to not filter allegations through a formal channel, such as an Ethics Committee investigation, and maintains that because “there was nothing but a rumor,” there was nothing further she could have done aside from ask Bates herself about it. Gideon merely “took his word for it,” one of the colleagues said.
Maine House Speaker Hannah Pingree in 2009 called for an Ethics Committee probe into a lawmaker using his position of power to shirk charges of using illegal fireworks. In 2001, the Ethics Committee recommended censuring a representative for yelling obscenities at two senators over legislation.
A third former Republican colleague of Gideon told Breitbart News, “I don’t think it’s necessarily unreasonable to sit on [the allegations] for a couple days. But you know the public’s going to have to decide, the voters are going to have to decide, whether it’s unreasonable to sit on it for the months that she did.”
Neither Gideon nor Bates have responded to multiple requests for comment.
Write to Ashley Oliver at email@example.com.