Poliquin takes flak for switching to vote against LGBT-rights provision

Democrat Emily Cain listens as Republican Bruce Poliquin makes a comment during a 2nd Congressional District debate in 2014 in Portland. (Troy R. Bennett - BDN)

Democrat Emily Cain listens as Republican Bruce Poliquin makes a comment during a 2nd Congressional District debate in 2014 in Portland. (Troy R. Bennett – BDN)

U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin of Maine’s 2nd District was part of a chaotic episode in the House on Thursday, when Democrats fingered him as one of seven Republicans to flip their votes against a provision aiming to prevent LGBT discrimination.

The amendment, which would have prevented contractors from getting federal work if they discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees, failed by a single vote on Thursday.

It appeared to have the votes to pass until Republicans started switching under pressure from party leaders, however, and Democrats began shouting, “Shame, shame,” in the chamber, according to video posted by POLITICO.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland, tweeted a list of Republicans who switched their votes, including Poliquin, calling the move “shameful.”

But Poliquin rejected that characterization in a statement that didn’t address his voting maneuver, saying he was “outraged that political opponents or members of the press would claim or insinuate that I cast a vote due to pressure or party politics.”

The vote blocked a bid to overturn an amendment that would apply religious exemptions to President Barack Obama’s 2014 executive order on workplace discrimination.

The so-called Russell Amendment that Poliquin supported would exempt “any religious corporation, religious association, religious educational institution, or religious society” from the order. However, those entities aren’t defined in the amendment and advocates worry that contractors could interpret it liberally.

Poliquin said he “abhor(s) discrimination in any form and at any place” and that he supported the Russell language that is “narrowly tailored specifically to religious institutions.”

But he was criticized by Democrats and LGBT advocates in Maine, which has strong anti-discrimination laws. In 2005, Maine voters affirmed a law expanding protections under the Maine Civil Rights Act to sexual orientation and gender identity.

In a statement, Matt Moonen, the executive director of Equality Maine and a Democratic legislator, called it “disappointing” that Poliquin “chose to follow the orders of Republican leadership by voting to allow discrimination against LGBT people, rather than representing the will of the Mainers he is supposed to be serving.”

It provided campaign fodder for Democrat Emily Cain, who’s running a nationally targeted rematch against Poliquin in 2016. In a statement, she called discrimination “bad for the economy” and “just bad period.”

“I always have and always will stand against discrimination,” she said. “Maine people can count on me to be honest and open about my beliefs and my votes.”

Michael Shepherd

About Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after covering state, federal and local issues for the Kennebec Journal for three years. He's a Hallowell native who now lives in Gardiner. He graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and is a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service.