Julia Colpitts holds a master’s degree in social work, is a licensed clinical social worker and runs the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence. On paper, she appears to be the very model of a modern liberal and the antithesis of someone who would respect Paul LePage.

But Colpitts cannot be reduced to a stereotype. Her assessment of LePage was developed not from headlines, but from working with him — and Democrats — to change laws and attitudes about domestic violence.

“It’s very easy to demonize people who don’t think like we do,” she said.

Domestic violence — “DV” to the advocates — was on LePage’s radar from the beginning. In Colin Woodard’s “The Making of Paul LePage” in the Portland Phoenix in January 2012, he cited LePage’s recollection that he left his Lewiston home at age 12 after his drunken father broke his nose and dislocated his jaw.

LePage said the doctor and nurse who treated him were angry, but there was little they could do. 

“Back then, the laws aren’t as tough as they are now,” Woodard quoted LePage as saying.

By the time LePage leaves office — even if he lasts just one term — the laws will be tougher yet.  

LePage, Colpitts’ group, Democrat Emily Cain, Maine Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Leigh Saufley and others have spearheaded such changes as requiring judges, not poorly-trained bail commissioners, set bail in DV cases; a validated risk assessment program that law enforcement will use in dealing with DV defendants; and a legal definition of strangulation in the criminal code. 

LePage also appears in a DV public service video filmed in the State House with the burly governor surrounded by a couple dozen men asking the public to “stand up” again domestic abuse. The message is clear — men are the problem and the solution — and it’s coming from a range of men: cops, bikers, men in suits.

Colpitts said working directly with LePage means he will ”challenge you, engage you in disagreements, but, not in my experience is it intended to intimidate or harass you in any way.” His theme in working on the legislation, she said, was “knowing that people will change if you hold them accountable.”

How does she jibe his commitment to ending DV with comments such as suggesting a legislator was figuratively sodomizing the state.

“He came back and said that wasn’t an appropriate thing to say,” she replied. “In my conversations with him, he never used language like that.”

Cain worked with LePage on DV as well as ethics reform, an issue that never went far in Democratic administrations. The LePage-Cain bill made four changes in the state’s ethics laws, aimed primarily at better disclosure and transparency.

On the other hand, LePage vetoed a bill that would have required disclosure of donors to a governor-elect’s transition.

Cain said the governor’s successes in domestic violence and ethics laws — and their failure to be well known — demonstrate the political challenge he faces.

“It’s hard to have those examples actually come front and center stage because of all the other — whether events or comments or dramas — that surrounds the governor,” she said. “It becomes hard for anyone in the public or even the State House to celebrate those moments because they get drowned out by a lot of other noise.”

Continue reading Chapter 8: ‘He really doesn’t care if anyone likes him’

Naomi Schalit contributed to this story. Disclosure: Severin Beliveau, who is quoted in this story, contributed $250 to the Center in 2013. The Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting is a nonpartisan, non-profit news service based in Hallowell. Email: [email protected] Web: www.pinetreewatchdog.org.

About the author: John Christie is the co-founder, publisher and senior reporter of the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting. He has covered local, state and national politics as a reporter, editor and publisher at newspapers in Maine, Massachusetts and Florida and holds a BA in political science from the University of New Hampshire.

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