BANGOR – After failing to appear at a Portland women’s policy forum earlier in the week, Republican gubernatorial challenger Chandler Woodcock declined an invitation Saturday to attend a similar function hosted by the Bangor chapter of Business and Professional Women.
Two other women’s issues candidate events are scheduled in Bangor and Presque Isle later this month, but a Woodcock campaign spokesman confirmed Friday that the GOP nominee was not planning to attend either function. Chris Jackson, the candidate’s campaign manager, insisted Woodcock’s absence at the women’s forums had nothing to do with the conservative Republican’s opposition to abortion and was instead tied directly to scheduling conflicts.
“We simply have existing commitments that we need to meet,” Jackson said. “We’re certainly not opposed to meeting with any particular group, nor are we trying to avoid social issues. In fact, we actually deal with them on a fairly regular basis.”
Cathy Goodine, who welcomed about 40 members and guests to the BPW’s District 3 Fall Meeting at the G. Pierce Webber Campus Center of Husson College, was pleased with the attendance of Woodcock’s opponents: Democratic Gov. John E. Baldacci, independent state Sen. Barbara Merrill and Green Independent Party candidate Pat LaMarche – all of whom are staunch pro-choice advocates. Although Goodine accepted Woodcock’s explanation for his absence Saturday night, she offered a serious suggestion.
“I would hope that at some point he would see fit to approach some type of women’s organization and discuss this,” she said.
The BPW actually may have been more closely aligned with Woodcock on a number of issues reflected in the group’s questions that were screened by the candidates and couched in pro-business positions including those indicating that:
. The governor’s Dirigo health plan was too costly.
. The state has not kept current with its financial obligations under Baldacci.
. The state’s tax burden remains among the highest in the country.
There was also a BPW question about how each candidate’s position on women’s reproductive rights would influence their administration if elected. LaMarche and Merrill said that question alone would have been enough to convince Woodcock to skip Saturday night’s forum.
“Chandler Woodcock doesn’t want to talk about this issue in public. He wants to hide it,” Merrill said. “Frankly, I think people need to look closely at that. His absence and position sends a huge message: Chandler Woodcock would not be a governor who would advocate for women’s rights.”
Woodcock, who opposes abortion on demand except in instances of rape, incest or when the life of the woman is at stake, is occasionally dogged on the campaign trail because of his philosophy. His viewpoint is out of step with many moderate Republicans including Sens. Olympia J. Snowe and Susan M. Collins who firmly defend the landmark Roe v. Wade decision that made legalized abortion in the United States possible.
Still, the senators’ differences on that issue with the GOP gubernatorial nominee have not posed any obstacles to a united front for the party in the coming November elections. Collins publicly endorsed Woodcock’s candidacy last month. Snowe, who is seeking re-election this fall, campaigned throughout York County last week with the retired teacher and three-term state senator.
“I think our two United States senators should come out publicly and scold Chandler for not standing up for women,” LaMarche said.
A persistent question throughout the campaign has focused on the choices for independent and Republican voters who may be unwilling to vote for Woodcock because of his stance on the issue. Would they be more inclined to support Merrill, LaMarche or Baldacci?
“If I were a Republican or an independent, I’d be voting for Baldacci,” said one Democratic woman at the forum. “A vote for either of the other two will be a vote for Woodcock.”
Baldacci appeared mystified by his Republican opponent’s absence from the meeting, explaining that abortion continues to be a litmus test issue for many Maine voters and politically sensitive for women’s organizations in the state.
“You have to be able to stand in front of people and explain your position on issues like this because, as governor, you’re in a very important role that will either heavily influence or decide those choices,” the governor said. “That becomes particularly true with Supreme Court nominees at the state level in the event that a decision on abortion is turned back to the states.”
Baldacci declined to appear at a Maine Municipal Association meeting last week, reportedly because he was consulting with officials in Old Town on the sale of the former Georgia-Pacific complex.
Although Maine has a law on the books guaranteeing a woman’s right to obtain an abortion even if Roe v. Wade is repealed, the BPW knows any law not enshrined in the state constitution is subject to repeal at the whim of the Legislature. Shawn Cunningham, state BPW president and moderator of Saturday’s forum, asked each of the panelists how they felt about preserving the state abortion law.
All of the panelists said they believed existing abortion access laws should remain in place and that Maine Care funding should be restored for abortions, although Merrill said she would first like to have the benefit of actual data that proved low-income women were being denied access to abortion services.
“If they were being denied because of their income, I would be very willing to look at restoring MaineCare funding, but we need the evidence first,” she said.