More lobbyists, lawmakers demand change at Maine statehouse
AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — More female lobbyists and lawmakers came forward Wednesday to publicly share their stories of sexual harassment at the Maine Statehouse.
The lobbyists said the Legislature must empower victims and change a culture where lewd behavior, suggestive looks and unwanted touches are too common.
Several testified in support of a bill that would mandate stricter anti-harassment training and education for lawmakers and their staffs and, for the first time, require the same training for lobbyists.
The Legislature’s state and local government committee voted in favor of the bill. It now will be considered in the House and Senate.
Before the vote, Democratic gubernatorial candidate and longtime progressive lobbyist Betsy Sweet told lawmakers she was one of four paid female lobbyists when she started her work in 1983. She said she had nowhere to turn when, as a 26-year-old, a lunch with a legislative leader turned uncomfortable.
“As a lobbyist, an advocate, we need people’s votes, we want you to like us,” Sweet said. “We need to ask you for your support. And so to stand up and stay ‘No, this is wrong,’ it’s a difficult line.”
Elizabeth Ward Saxl, executive director of the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said she once experienced “egregious” sexual harassment at a legislator’s hands and that the clerk of the House had to intervene. She called for lawmakers to develop a policy that clearly lays out how to report sexual harassment.
The state told The Associated Press it has received two sexual misconduct or harassment complaints against lawmakers during the last decade: one in 2009, the other in 2011. But many women do not report the behavior out of fear it might harm their careers, some of the lobbyists and lawmakers said.
Republican Sen. Paul Davis said he has experienced inappropriate behavior during his career.
“It’s difficult for a man; who do you complain to?” Davis said. “Is it manly to complain about it, and are you going to be looked upon as inferior?”
Republican Rep. Richard Pickett, who voted for the bill, drew criticism when he questioned how some people wear their clothes and said modesty is lacking in society.
“I don’t think it’s the clothes people wear,” Pickett said. “But I think we can be modest in the way that we wear our clothes. And you know, sometimes, that makes a difference.”
The comment drew scoffs from some of the bill’s supporters.
“That stuff happens to me no matter what I’m wearing.” said Emily Postman, who works for the Environmental Health Strategy Center.