August 25, 2016
By Jill Barkley, executive director of Emerge Maine and Katie Mae Simpson, executive director of the Maine Democratic Party
At a town hall last week in Sanford, Gov. LePage and state Rep. Patty Hymanson, D-York, argued about the number of people on the state’s Medicaid wait list. Local media used an array of verbs to describe the conflict, including “scuffle” and “spar“.
Given the governor’s aversion to both facts and diplomacy, the story came as no surprise. Gov. LePage has little patience for anyone who disagrees with him. He has stated, flatly, that he does not talk to reporters. He has come under fire for holding closed-door meetings – most likely in order to limit the number of people who might challenge him. He even cut short a speech he was giving at a dedication ceremony after he was rattled by signs held by silent protesters.
Yet LePage’s conflict with Hymanson was tinged with coded language clearly intended to undermine her credibility by attacking her gender. Though his tone toward women isn’t as blatantly biased as it often is toward people of color, there is no denying the intent behind his choice of words.
He called her too “emotional,” a word rarely, if ever, used to describe male politicians. When she challenged him, he chided, “You were talking out of turn. That’s disrespectful,” as though he were scolding a child. And he casually dismissed her legitimate criticism of his claims with the simple command, “Remove her, please” It is doubtful that even Gov. LePage would have taken such liberties were he talking to a male legislator.
It also isn’t the first time Gov. LePage has condescended to a female legislator at a public forum. At a town hall in Freeport in February, the governor lectured Assistant House Majority Leader Sara Gideon on how she should work with her “bosses” in Augusta, including House Speaker Mark Eves and Senate Minority Leader Justin Alfond (who doesn’t even serve in the same chamber as Gideon). Gideon, a Freeport Democrat, quickly responded that Eves, D-North Berwick, and Alfond, D-Portland, are her peers, not her superiors.
When Gov. LePage suggests that a woman’s opinion doesn’t matter, he is suggesting that she doesn’t matter. And when politicians believe, whether consciously or not, that women don’t matter, then government will never really work for women.
For example, in the last legislative session, every Republican in the Maine Senate voted against a bill that would have protected women from being discriminated against by their employers on the basis of their reproductive health decisions. Furthermore, 14 Republicans in the Senate voted to increase regulations on abortion providers that tend to serve low-income women.
Restricting access to women’s health services has real and devastating effects. In Texas, the pregnancy-related death rate doubled between 2010 and 2012 – the same period in which that state drastically cut funding to women’s health care providers, including Planned Parenthood.
The Maine abortion bill would likely never have seen the light of day were more women in the Legislature. Currently, less than a third of the members of the Maine House of Representatives are women, while women make up less than a quarter of the members of the Maine Senate. In fact, there are fewer women in the Maine Legislature today than there were in 1991. Maine is also the only state in New England where a woman has never served as governor.
That’s why programs like Emerge Maine, which trains Democratic women to run for office, are so important. Now in its 10th year, the organization, which works in close partnership with the Maine Democratic Party, has trained more than 170 women, including more than 60 who have run for office. Eleven Emerge alumnae currently serve in the Maine House of Representatives, accounting for 15 percent of the House Democratic caucus. This November, 21 Emerge alumnae will be on ballots across the state.
The governor has joked that he wouldn’t give his wife his checkbook, and state Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn, has even likened a procedural maneuver to rape. These remarks are unbecoming of the offices of the men who made them. It’s time to replace them, if not with women, then with men who respect them.