Last week, the Maine House voted 72-51 to table an order sponsored by Rep. Paula Sutton (R-Warren) calling for an ethics investigation into House Democratic leadership’s handling of rumors that a former Democratic legislator had inappropriate relationships with his students. Last month, Rep. Dillon Bates (D-Westbrook) resigned from his position after The Bollard, a monthly Portland publication, reported that Bates, who has worked as a coach and teacher, allegedly had affairs with at least three high school girls over the past five years. The story was largely based on the account of one of his former students who spoke on condition of anonymity. Bates has denied the allegations and his attorney has said there isn’t a “shred of evidence to support the suggestion that he engaged in any misconduct.”

House Speaker Sara Gideon (D-Freeport) told media outlets that she had heard rumors about the inappropriate relationships months earlier, but said that Bates denied it when she confronted him about it, so she told him she would ask him to resign if any evidence came to her attention. After the report was published, Gideon immediately asked Bates to step down, but Republicans have questioned whether there was an attempted “cover-up.”

“I and others feel that this issue should be looked at specifically to determine how it was handled in the very beginning when leadership became aware of its existence,” said Sutton in a floor speech last week. “We owe it to the people of this state to ensure that they understand that every effort was made through communications and investigations, lines of questioning what happened and when did it happen?”

Sutton’s order also stated that Bates should have been allowed due process and “should not have been forced out of office based on unsubstantiated allegations.”

Right after the tabling motion, Rep. Larry Lockman (R-Amherst) was ruled out of order by acting House Speaker Erin Herbig (D-Belfast) after he asked if the motion was a vote in favor of “covering up the cover up.” Every House Republican voted against the tabling motion except House Republican Leader Ken Fredette (R-Newport), Assistant House Republican Leader Ellie Espling (R-New Gloucester), Rep. Will Tuell (R-Machias) and Rep. Matt Harrington (R-Sanford). Prior to the vote, Fredette told the Bangor Daily News that Bates’ resignation meant that the chamber “can put this matter behind us.”