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LePage Backs Away from Human Rights Act Remarks
10/08/2010   Reported By: A.J. Higgins

A few months ago when Republican gubernatorial candidate Paul LePage was battling his way to his party's nomination in a seven-way primary, he tapped into the concerns of many Republicans who are worried about the preservation of traditional family values in Maine. LePage called in to an Aroostook County radio show and said there is no place for transgendered students in the state's primary schools and that the Maine Human Rights Act needs to be reformed. The candidate now says he doesn't recall those statements.

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LePage Backs Away from Human Rights Act Remarks
Originally Aired: 10/8/2010 5:30 PM

The strategy has been used before, so it wasn't unexpected when Republican nominee Paul LePage decided to stake out the conservative wing of the GOP by running hard to the right during the primary and then trying to move more to the center for the general election.

He shared some of his feelings about a conservative hot-button issue when he called into the Aroostook Watchmen radio show last spring and shared his thoughts about transgendered students and the Maine Human Rights Act.

"You know, our children are being used as pawns," he said then. "I just don't understand how people, at least sane people, would want to allow transgender in our primary schools and our high schools."

LePage then pledged to oppose legislation for transgendered students. "If I claim I'm a woman in my philosophy and my thinking, I can play on the girls' hockey team or the girls' basketball team. I think it's absolutely insane, I think it's gone too far and we have to push back. As governor, I would never allow that to be signed into law," he said.

And LePage didn't stop there. When asked by the Aroostook Watchmen host whether he would work to revoke or rescind the sexual orientation provision of the Maine Human Rights Act that provides equal protection under the law for gay men, lesbian women and transgendered individuals, LePage had this to say:

"My thinking would be it clearly needs to be brought back and reformed, the law needs to be reformed," he said. "In fact, I'm not even so sure that the rules that they're putting in place now don't need to go back to the Legislature. I think that they've gone beyond the intent of the law, and they're clearly making the law, in my mind at least. I think it probably should be challenged and brought back to the Legislature."

The LePage campaign was sent a transcript of the GOP candidate's remarks from the show. But LePage says he doesn't recall making them.

A.J. Higgins: "This question was specifically directed towards sexual orientation, and you said that reforms were needed so our children wouldn't become pawns in the system."

Paul LePage: "Oh. This was an issue - that wasn't a - I don't remember that one. I remember that - I guess I'm not - the only ones I remember talking about was the process issue. If I said something else, I don't recall it."

The candidate did say that he wants to change aspects of the complaint process that employers must follow when dealing with discrimination complaints brought by workers to the Human Rights Commission. But LePage denied having any criticisms of the Maine Human Rights Act as it is currently written.

A.J. Higgins: "Do you favor taking a second look at the Maine Human Rights Act, as it pertains to sexual orientation?

Paul LePage: "No, I don't have an issue there. That's never been an issue for me. To me it was always about process. I am concerned that companies are wasting hundreds and hundreds of hours of work and dollars in preparing for frivolous arguments. I think that a charge should be screened to see if there's meat on the bone, and if there is then send the company doing the work. That's the only real concern I've ever had."

"Ever since I heard about this interview, where he supported rescinding or reforming the Maine Human Rights Act, we've all been very concerned," says Betsy Smith, executive director of Equality Maine, which advocates for gay lesbian and transgendered Mainers.

Smith says members of her organization are hurt by LePage's statements and do not believe he has no plans to deconstruct the Maine Human Rights Act if elected governor.

"We are very, very concerned that we would have a governor who would come in and rescind some of these protections. He has no compassion for who transgender people are and what they face on a day-to-day basis," Sweet says. "He has no understanding of that and no compassion for that."

Bob Emrich, a Plymouth pastor and former Republican chief of staff in the Maine Senate helped lead the successful effort to repeal Maine's same-sex marriage law last year. He says LePage had it right when he was interviewed by the Aroostook County radio station.

Now, Emrich says, he's less than encouraged by the way the candidate reacted to those same questions this week.
"I'm a little confused about his response," Emrich says.

Still Emrich says he hopes LePage will seek to reform the Human Rights Act because so many Mainers are upset about using the law to support the rights of transgendered students.

"I guess I would disagree with him, and I support Paul LePage for governor. But I would disagree with him about that," Emrich says. "It does need to be reformed, it is an issue, and honestly, I think the whole thing, and I think many, many people in the state of Maine, especially with the push for same-sex marriage, we're now with all this transgender confusion and all the problems that are coming up, I think that a lot of people would say, 'We need to take another look at this.'"

The other four candidates for governor couldn't be more united in their opposition to LePage's statements on the Aroostook County radio station.

"I would never weaken the Maine Human Rights Act," says Democratic nominee Libby Mitchell. "It is designed to protect people who are different. Whether it's sexual orientation or gender or class, it is designed to protect Maine people. I support the Maine Human Rights Act, and I would never weaken it."

"Sexual orientation - you know, that's a personal decision that people make and we need to respect those decisions regardless of how we feel as individuals," says Independent Kevin Scott. "We're looking to be the chief executive of the state of Maine, we need to abide by the existing rules, regs, and we need to respect all people."

"I think the Human Rights Commission is crucial to the state of Maine and the laws that we have in place now," says Independent Sean Moody. "I would not be in favor of revisiting some of those that currently stand."

And Independent Eliot Cutler says the law should be reformed to be even more inclusive. "What we need to do is take a step beyond the Human Rights Act and we need a governor who's going to take leadership on the issue of marriage equality. I've said I'm going to do that. Mayor LePage changes his mind right and left - every day is a new story. My story's the same day after day."

The Maine Human Rights Commission ruled against the town of Orono last month, saying that the school system had erred by not letting the male-to-female sixth-grader use the girl's bathroom. But the panel has deferred drafting statewide education policy for transgendered students and others affected by the sexual orientation provision of the law until after the gubernatorial election.

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