Maine’s Democratic House leadership blamed “older white guys” in their party for opposition to Gov. Janet Mills’ late-term abortion bill in a bid to motivate, and accused a Republican representative of using fake tears while speaking on the House floor, texts obtained by the Bangor Daily News via the state’s Freedom of Access Act show.
The texts reveal that on June 22, Democratic leadership was scrambling to find the votes to pass the controversial bill, LD 1619, through its first roll call in the House.
Rep. Deqa Dhalac (D-South Portland), one of two of the first Somali-Americans elected to the State Legislature, texted Assistant House Majority Leader Kristen Cloutier (D-Lewiston) on the day of the vote to tell her that she was conflicted.
“I am conflicted on 1619,” Rep. Dhalac texted Cloutier.
“OK, what do you need?” Cloutier asked.
“I don’t know. My community folks talked to my mom in Somalia and she called me this morning asking me if I am killing babies,” Dhalac replied, adding “Damn.”
LD 1619 would allow a woman to abort her baby at any time during a pregnancy and for any reason, so long as a single doctor at an abortion clinic approved the procedure.
“Oh Deqa, I’m sorry,” Cloutier said.
A last-minute amendment to the bill from Rep. Ben Collings (D-Portland) caught the Democratic leadership by surprise in the afternoon of June 22.
Rep. Colling’s amendment would have limited the exceptions to the restriction on post-viability abortions to cases of fatal fetal abnormalities or to preserve the life or health of the mother.
Gov. Mills and Democratic leaders had maintained throughout the session that those two cases were the primary reasons LD 1619 was needed.
“The Clerk just got an amendment to this bill,” House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross’ (D-Portland) chief of staff Bill Brown texted to a group of staffers and leaders, according to the BDN.
After receiving the text of Collings’ amendment, House Majority Leader Maureen Terry (D-Gorham) replied “Oh,” alongside an emoji with a slanted mouth.
Collings moved to table the bill shortly after 5 p.m., at which point a thirty minute recess announced by House Speaker Talbot Ross ended up being extended to nearly five hours, buying Democratic leadership enough time to find the votes to pass the bill.
Collings would later vote in favor of LD 1619 after his proposed amendment was shot down.
“I believe the pressure from outside of the Legislative branch was much stronger than my good faith effort to make this law more in line with what Maine people want,” Collings told the BDN in an email statement.
During the House recess, Terry texted Rep. Holly Eaton, D-Deer Isle, who had stayed home to watch her children, “Hey. I do know this is a long shot but we’re losing 1619 by a single vote. Any chance you could tuck in the kids to take the long drive to come in to vote?”
When Rep. Eaton said that it would take her two hours to drive to the State House, Terry replied “we could wait.”
Terry added that the only Democrats opposed to LD 1619 were “all older white guys,” and proceeded to list Rep. Kevin O’Connell (D-Brewer), Rep. Collings, Rep. Bill Bridgeo (D-Augusta, and others.
Rep. O’Connell had texted Cloutier earlier in the day to let her know that he would not be voting for LD 1619.
Eaton was unable to find a babysitter, and decided to drive to Augusta with her children.
Terry replied that leaders would give the kids “root beer floats and places to play!!!”
“Holly, you are my hero!!” Terry said.
“It makes me feel good that I’m able to do this,” Eaton said in a later text message.
Texts between Sen. Stacy Brenner and Terry after the debate on the House floor resumed show that Brenner accused Rep. Laurel Libby (R-Auburn) of using fake tears when telling a story.
In an emotional speech, Rep. Libby told the story of how an ultrasound she received at 19 weeks showed potential life-threatening issues for her daughter, but that now her daughter is 13 years old and healthy.
“Girl… how are you? How’s this going to go?” Brenner asked Terry at 10:17 p.m. “Also… LL has fake tears.”
Brenner then sent a link to a Pinterest tutorial on “How to Make Fake Tears,” to which Terry added a “haha” reaction.
Sen. Brenner issued a statement to the BDN on her texts saying that she sent the message “in the heat of the moment,” and that due to her work as a nurse midwife she found the debate “frustrating due to the volume of medical misinformation” around the bill.
“I want to be clear that I deeply respect my colleagues on both sides of the aisle and those who may not share my views on this issue,” Brenner said. “That text exchange reflects a moment in time and does not reflect how I feel about my colleagues at large.”
Libby told the BDN that she had no comment on the text messages.
LD 1619 eventually passed its first vote in the House at 10:46 p.m. on June 22 by a vote of 74 to 72.
Gov. Mills signed the bill into law on July 19.