Politics & Other Mistakes: Enough dirt for everyone

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The trouble with being a politician is you have to associate with lots of creeps, mostly in the form of other politicians. Those unpleasant associations can pop up later in the most embarrassing ways.

For example, there’s Maine Speaker of the House Sara Gideon, the Democratic Party’s nominee for the U.S. Senate. Back in late 2017, rumors began circulating at the Statehouse that Democratic state Rep. Dillon Bates of Westbrook had been accused of sexual misconduct by students at the Maine Girls Academy in Portland, the school where he taught and coached. Gideon’s staff talked to Bates, who denied everything. The accusers refused to talk on the record. The whole matter ended up getting buried – for a while.

In the summer of 2018, The Bollard, a monthly magazine (now known as Mainer), published a chilling account of Bates’ misdeeds at the school and at a theater company he directed. The story pointed out that Bates’ victims had notified the state child-abuse hotline and the Portland Press Herald. The Department of Health and Human Services, the cops and the news media had all punted, and Bates went on working as a coach and teacher for several more months, giving him positions of authority over young people.

After The Bollard piece, which went into meticulous detail about Bates’ activities, he kept up the denials, but, under heavy pressure, resigned from the Legislature in August 2018. Gideon and the Press Herald both attempted to explain away their failures to act any sooner with lame excuses about not being able to substantiate the charges.

“The Press Herald has been investigating the allegations for months,” the newspaper feebly claimed, “but did not have people willing to speak on the record or official documentation of complaints to support publication of a story.”

The Bollard, with far fewer resources than the state’s largest daily newspaper, was somehow not hampered by similar obstacles – possibly because it took the students’ statements seriously and put in the work necessary to verify them.

In spite of all the evidence in that story, no criminal charges were ever brought against the disgraced pol, and Bates seems to have faded into obscurity. Which is more than a little scary.

All this would be ancient history if Gideon weren’t running a competitive race for the Senate against incumbent Republican Sen. Susan Collins. With polls showing the challenger holding a slight edge over Collins, the National Republican Senatorial Committee decided to dredge up the Bates affair in an effort to disparage Gideon. They produced online and TV spots attacking her for her inaction.

“Only once these allegations were made public by the press did she do anything,” Nathan Brand, press secretary for the GOP committee told the Press Herald. “Maine voters deserve to know why Gideon chose not to act when presented with such disturbing allegations.”

Good point. Gideon has yet to produce a credible excuse for letting this important issue slide. But there are some other good points that the GOP seems to have, conveniently, overlooked.

Perhaps Republicans have forgotten that, at the time, many members of their legislative caucus were aware of the rumors about Bates. Like Gideon, they did exactly zilch. All it would have taken was for one representative or senator of either party to publicly question all this inaction, and the media would have been forced to act responsibly and cover the story. (As if the press ought to require force before it can be induced to do its job.)

Two years ago, I wrote a column about the Bates debacle. The penultimate paragraph read as follows: “With the exception of (The Bollard), nobody comes out of this looking good. And the lack of public reflection by these various institutions on what they did wrong and how they might correct it makes me doubt any lessons have been learned.”

That still doesn’t excuse Gideon’s failure to act. It does, however, allow her to share some of the blame with assorted hypocritical creeps.

Ugly truths and beautiful lies may be emailed to aldiamon@herniahill.net.