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Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon said that in early 2018 she heard rumors that a state House member had engaged in sexual misconduct with teenage students, but that she was aware of no proof.
The National Repubican Senatorial Committee accuses Gideon of a coverup for not ordering an ethics investigation, but cites no actions by Gideon to cover up the allegations.
The day after the allegations were made public in a news article, she called for the lawmaker’s resignation.
The serenity of the Pine Tree State is being broken by personal attacks that aren’t faring too well on our Truth-O-Meter.
In a Maine race that could help decide whether the GOP keeps control of the U.S. Senate, Republican incumbent Sen. Susan Collins and her Democratic challenger Sara Gideon have made a number of factually problematic claims against one another.
Now, the National Republican Senatorial Committee is targeting Gideon.
A TV ad sponsored by the group claims that when Gideon "knew the truth about" sexual allegations against a state lawmaker, "she could have called for an immediate (ethics) investigation, but didn’t…Gideon knew for months, using her power to cover up."
The Cook Political Report rates the race a tossup that could help decide whether Republicans, who have 53 seats in the Senate, maintain their majority.
It is one of 18 pivotal House and Senate contests up for election on Nov. 3 that PolitiFact is tracking.
The ad’s narrator refers to the case of Democratic Rep. Dillon Bates, a teacher and coach who it says "used his power (and) sexually preyed on his teenage students."
Here’s a timeline of the case:
Aug. 3, 2018 — Bates accused: The Bollard, then a monthly magazine published in Portland, Maine, posted an article claiming that Bates had "engaged in at least three romantic and/or sexual relationships with high school girls over the past half decade." One of the three was quoted anonymously in the article.
Aug. 4, 2018 — Gideon calls for Bates’ resignation: Gideon, citing the article, called for Bates’ resignation. Her spokeswoman Mary-Erin Casale acknowledged that Gideon had known about the misconduct accusations for several months prior and said: "At that point, we told Rep. Bates that if any evidence or new information was presented that indicated there could be truth to what was then a rumor, that we would ask him to resign immediately."
Aug. 6, 2018 — Bates quits coaching job; Gideon says there was no evidence previously: Bates, who denied the allegations, resigned from a high school coaching job. He had resigned abruptly from a separate teaching job in November 2017, saying at the time of the resignation he did so for family reasons, according to a Aug. 6, 2018 story in the Portland Press Herald.
The newspaper also quoted Casale as saying that when Gideon first heard about the rumors: "We confronted Rep. Bates immediately, who denied the rumor, and we were unable to otherwise find any substantiation, actual proof or evidence of any victims of the allegations."
Aug. 20, 2018 — Bates resigns House seat: Bates called the allegations baseless, but resigned less than two weeks after a Republican state representative called for a House Ethics Committee session regarding the allegations. He was never charged with a crime.
On Oct. 8, 2020, Gideon said in a radio interview that no individuals alleging acts by Bates had come forward until The Bollard article. "Before that, there was nothing but a rumor," she said.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee said that when Gideon "knew the truth about" sexual allegations against a state lawmaker, "she could have called for an immediate investigation, but didn’t…Gideon knew for months, using her power to cover up."
There is no evidence that Gideon knew "the truth." She said that in early 2018 she heard rumors about the allegations, but did not know of any proof. There is also no evidence she took any action to cover up the matter. When a news article made the allegations public, Gideon called on the lawmaker to resign.
We rate the statement Mostly False.
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Twitter, National Republican Senatorial Committee ad, Oct. 6, 2020
Email, Nathan Brand, press secretary, National Republican Senatorial Committee, Oct. 6, 2020
Email, Sara Gideon campaign spokeswoman Maeve Coyle, Oct. 8, 2020
The Bollard, "Lawmaker. Coach. Director. Predator," Aug. 3, 2018
WMTW-TV, "Anonymous accusations prompt House Speaker to call on Democratic lawmaker to resign," Aug. 4, 2018
NewsCenterMaine.com, "Ad fact check: What Speaker Sara Gideon knew, and the action she took in Dillon Bates scandal," July 7, 2020
Portland Press Herald, "Lawmaker accused of misconduct with students resigns coaching position at Massabesic High," Aug. 6, 2018
Portland Press Herald, "House speaker calls for lawmaker from her own party to resign over alleged misconduct with students," Aug. 3, 2018
Portland Press Herald, "Former Westbrook lawmaker accused of improper behavior loses credential to work in Maine schools," Sept. 20, 2018
Portland Press Herald, "Westbrook lawmaker accused of misconduct with students resigns his House seat," Aug. 20, 2018
Maine Public Radio, Sara Gideon interview (28:20), Oct. 8, 2020
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