Democratic Senate candidate Sara Gideon spiked an ethics probe into how she handled allegations that one of her Democratic colleagues in the state legislature sexually abused teen girls.
The speaker of the Maine House of Representatives rallied Democrats in 2018 to vote against an ethics investigation into how her office dealt with sexual misconduct allegations against Democratic state legislator Dillon Bates. Paula Sutton, the Republican state legislator who called for the ethics probe, said that Gideon's decision to oppose the investigation demonstrates that Gideon was more concerned about political expediency than protecting children.
"Sara Gideon had an opportunity for full transparency, and she voted it down," Sutton told the Washington Free Beacon. "They just want to crush the problem, because they're afraid to deal with it. It's just a lack of courage—a complete lack of conviction and courage."
Gideon previously acknowledged that she heard rumors about Bates for months, but called for his resignation only after a news outlet reported about his alleged misconduct. Neither Gideon nor Bates responded to requests for comment.
Bates, a former drama teacher and athletics coach at Maine high schools, allegedly groomed underaged girls to have inappropriate relationships with him, according to an anonymous victim cited by the Bollard, the monthly magazine that first broke the news in August 2018. Gideon demanded Bates's resignation on the same day the Bollard story ran, and the disgraced legislator resigned two weeks later. While Bates denied the allegations and the state never charged him with a crime, Maine's Department of Education declined to renew his teaching license due to the allegations.
Maine Democratic leaders knew about the allegations for months before the Bollard story's publication, but Gideon said she did not take action after Bates denied the allegations. A senior Maine Democratic aide offered a full-throttled defense of Bates to a different news outlet earlier that year, saying there was "absolutely no truth" to the allegations.
After Bates resigned in mid-August, Sutton called for an ethics probe specifically into how the Gideon office dealt with the sexual misconduct allegations. She hoped the probe would uncover whether Gidoen sought to cover up Bates's sexual misconduct for months, as well as give Bates a chance to exonerate himself in a public space.
Gideon whipped almost all Democrats into voting to table the motion in early September, dooming the ethics probe in the Democrat-controlled legislature. While she herself did not vote on the probe, 64 out of 73 Democrats voted to kill it, while 8 more abstained. Only one Democrat, who was not running for reelection, voted to implement an ethics probe.
"I just think Gideon just didn't want to deal with it," Sutton said. "Once he resigned, it was over and done in their eyes, and they wanted to move on to other things."
The sexual misconduct scandal has emerged as a hot button issue in Gideon's bid to replace GOP senator Susan Collins, who has represented the state since 1997. In a series of ads, Republicans have questioned why Gideon sat on the accusations for months without taking action, while Democrats have responded with their own TV spots portraying the Maine Democrat as the hero of the situation who called for Bates's resignation.
"As the mother of two sons and one daughter, I value our children's safety more than anything else," Gideon said in a recent ad.
This is not the first time Gideon killed an ethics probe along party lines. In 2017, Gideon mobilized her caucus to shoot down an ethics probe into a Democratic legislator accused of conflict of interest. Calls for ethics investigations were not always partisan affairs in Maine. In 2007, a Democratic house speaker called for an ethics investigation into a fellow Democrat who used his political position to avoid a firework citation.
Gideon has a track record of shooting down anti-child abuse legislations in the state house. Just 10 days after Bates resigned, Gideon whipped votes to oppose a bill that would have imposed criminal penalties for mandated reporters—teachers, doctors, and professionals who work with kids—who did not report child abuse. She also repeatedly rallied Democrats to oppose legislation to criminalize female genital mutilation, a practice that mostly victimizes immigrants and young girls of color.
Gideon is running in a highly competitive race against Collins that could determine the Senate majority beginning in 2021. The Democrat holds a 4.5-point lead, according to Real Clear Politics.