State of Maine: Equal Rights Amendment is long overdue in Maine

Governor Janet Mills’ State of the State Address on Jan. 21 covered the usual range of gubernatorial concerns. Health care, education, the business environment, child welfare and other hot-button issues were all featured in her address.

One item she mentioned gave some listeners pause. “Pass the Equal Rights Amendment to the Maine Constitution.” Wait, what? Maine passed the ERA to the United States Constitution in 1974, but we have not yet provided for equality in our state constitution.

It’s not that we haven’t tried. Just last year a state constitutional ban on sex-based discrimination was proposed but Republicans rejected it. Repeat: Republicans rejected a measure to give women equal rights in Maine. It would take a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to send the question to the public.

It’s not that there aren’t statutory protections for women in Maine. There are. But a matter of such significance should be enshrined in our most fundamental document, making it clear that Mainers believe men and women should have equal rights in Maine. In the Senate, the two-thirds vote was achieved, but House Republicans did not care to go along.

Seriously? In the year 2020, House Republicans cannot bring themselves to vote for gender equality? Of the 56 Republican House members, just 11 (20 percent) are women. Of the Democrats, 47 are women, outnumbering Republican women more than 5 to 1. They outnumber the Democratic men, too.

In the Senate, four of the 14 Republicans are women (28 percent), while eight of the 21 Democrats are women (38 percent). That gives the Maine Legislature a total of 70 women among the 186 members, or 37.6 percent.

House Republicans made sure their female representatives weighed in on the ERA amendment. Those women suggested a constitutional amendment is unnecessary given statutory protections. The Christian Civic League of Maine testified that the amendment “has everything to do with abortion.” Just how, it did not say.

Just over half the states have chosen to protect equal rights in their constitutions. It is time for Maine to join in and pass a state constitutional amendment making it clear that we support equal rights. Can you believe that this is subject to debate in 2020?

The Governor also made a State of the State bid for adding to our state population. “Very simply,” said she, “we need people.” Her administration has set a 10-year goal of adding 75,000 people to the Maine workforce.

One-tenth of that number, 7,500, arrived in Maine in the 2019 fiscal year. Though the majority of Hancock County’s tourism workers are seasonal residents, some have chosen to stay year-round, enriching the culture of our communities and taking winter work or starting businesses of their own.

Governor Mills offered a warm embrace to those in-migrants. Maine House member Larry Lockman? Not so much. He has filed a number of anti-immigrant bills in his four terms in office, bills that are generally suggestive of the need to protect Maine communities from “potential criminals or terrorists” in the immigrant community.

Lockman, who is term-limited at the end of this legislative session, has entered the race for Senate District 8, an inland strip of towns that runs from Penobscot to Lincoln. Incumbent Sen. Kimberley Rosen of Bucksport is competing for her fourth and final term in the Senate.

Sen. Rosen is a calm and cheerful legislator who puts constituents before party. She is directly responsive to citizen inquiries. It will be a stark choice in the Republican primary. The contrast with Lockman could not be greater.

Rosen maintains her core party beliefs but thinks for herself and takes her constituents’ input seriously. Lockman has ridden the extreme edge of his party’s ideology, crashing up against boundaries of human decency. Witness his comments about rape, wherein he opined that if a woman has a right to abortion, “why shouldn’t a man be free to … force himself on a woman?”

When it comes to immigration, Lockman welcomes it — with a “but.” He is OK with immigration as long as new residents of Maine are “English-speaking U.S citizens from other states.” All others need not apply.

What is he so afraid of? A quick scan of the local “cops and courts” columns in our weekly newspapers gives a horrifying recitation of the worst that humans can do to each other, or to themselves. They are our families, our neighbors. What is it that Larry Lockman thinks immigrants will do that is so much worse than that?

National politics may be beyond us. We are in a place we never thought our country would be, or could be. But Maine? Let Maine forever be a place of tolerance, a place where we are not quick to judge, a place where we are always ready to lend a hand to anyone in need. Our Maine.

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Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait worked for 25 years as a registered nurse at Mount Desert Island Hospital. She has served as a Bar Harbor town councilor and as an independent state senator from Hancock County.

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