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Bev Uhlenhake of Brewer in the vice chair of the Maine Democratic Party.
If you take a look back at American history, you’ll notice one thing about Maine women: We lead the way.
Frances Perkins, who spent much of her childhood in Newcastle, served as the nation’s first woman cabinet secretary, and laid the foundation for many of the New Deal policies such as Social Security and the 40-hour work week that, ninety years later, are still helping Americans get by.
Margaret Chase Smith, the first woman to represent Maine in Congress, was also the first member of Congress to bravely voice opposition to Joseph McCarthy’s authoritarian witch hunt against his political enemies.
Over the last three years, Gov. Janet Mills, the first woman to occupy the Blaine House, has joined the ranks of Maine’s great women leaders. Since taking office, I believe her leadership has brought unprecedented progress to our state – expanding health care access, tackling the climate crisis, and making record investments in our public schools, our small businesses, and our infrastructure. All that progress has come as Mills has fought the COVID-19 pandemic, leading a pandemic response that has resulted in some of the nation’s highest vaccination rates and lowest case and death rates.
Also like accomplished Maine women before her, Mills has run into ferocious opposition, this time from former Gov. Paul LePage. Just as LePage tore down Frances Perkins’ mural in the state Department of Labor almost immediately after taking office, his 2022 re-election campaign is just the beginning of his effort to tear down all the progress that Mills has made. On the trail so far, LePage has promised to undo much of Mills’ work, from her good stewardship of Maine’s economy to her record investments in Maine people.
Perkins and Mills are not the only women that have come under attack by LePage over the years. During his time as governor, LePage pursued a policy agenda that was viciously anti-women, attacking our health, our rights, our safety, and our livelihoods.
The trouble started with health care. LePage came into office right as the Affordable Care Act was being enacted, and he did everything he possibly could to obstruct its implementation here in Maine. That obstruction deprived tens of thousands of Maine women from accessing health insurance, and got in the way of key ACA provisions that prevented women from being charged more for care than men and required insurance companies to cover key services like maternity care and contraceptives. LePage also fought against Maine women’s rights and access to abortion, and tried to defund Planned Parenthood, which would have been disastrous for Maine women and cost the state nearly $ 8 million.
LePage’s anti-women agenda did not stop with health care. He opposed legislation to curb the gender wage gap. He slashed funding for Title X and domestic violence prevention programs. He vetoed or refused to sign bills to protect victims of sexual harassment and assault. And his long record of economic mismanagement and refusing federal funds made life unnecessarily harder for thousands of Maine women.
Since LePage left office, Maine women have made tremendous progress. In addition to reversing LePage’s harmful anti-woman policies, Mills has expanded health and child care access, required insurance companies to cover abortions and other critical women’s health services, and made record investments in Maine’s families and businesses. Yet LePage’s presence on the ballot this November is yet another reminder that we can never take progress for granted.
As we observe Women’s History Month, it is not enough just to celebrate the historic progress delivered by great Maine women like Frances Perkins, Margaret Chase Smith, and Janet Mills. We must fight to protect that progress from those, like Paul LePage, who would tear it down.