Russell takes issue with Fredette comparing women’s suffrage to murderers’

Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland, left, and House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, right. BDN photos by Troy Bennett. Photo collage by Mario Moretto.

Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland, left, and House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, right. BDN photos by Troy Bennett. Photo collage by Mario Moretto.

Minor fireworks in the aftermath of debate in the House of Representatives today on whether to establish true early voting in Maine.

Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland, is taking umbrage with House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, for comments he made during the debate that Russell said needlessly lumped women in with convicted murderers.

Fredette’s comments came in response to Russell, herself responding to another lawmaker, who said the Founding Fathers had set up suffrage to take place on one, common Election Day.

Here’s Russell (audio courtesy of MPBN), with the audio transcribed below.

“When the founding fathers wrote the election laws, the founding mothers were not allowed to vote. If they had been, perhaps voting would have been allowed at 3 a.m. If you’re going to be up with a baby, you may as well vote too. I guess my point is, the laws have changed since then.”

Here’s Fredette’s response (audio again from MPBN):

“I would like to thank Rep. Russell for her comments in regard to extending the right to vote to women, which has also been extended to many other people, including convicted felons. Convicted murderers even get the right to vote in our state. And we reach out to people in many ways, to be able to have that right to vote.”

After the debate was over and the votes cast — the bill won enough support to advance, but fell short of the two-thirds support necessary for final approval —  Russell was upset with Fredette. Speaking with reporters, she said Fredette was lumping women in with convicted murderers, and suggested that after his “man brain” comments last year, it was a disturbing trend. (Fredette has apologized for the man brain speech.)

“What exactly does comparing women and murderers have to do with strengthening democracy?” Russell said later in an email. “This bill isn’t about the right to vote. It’s about making the early absentee voting process more secure and less convoluted for our election clerks.”

 Fredette defended his comments, saying he was only trying to illustrate his agreement with Russell, that a lot had changed since the state’s founding. Sometimes those changes are for the better — as in extending voting rights to women — and sometimes for the worse, such as for prisoners. (Fredette last year supported a measure to eliminate suffrage rights for convicted murderers).

“Any insinuation that my comment was comparing women’s right to vote with criminals’ is beyond laughable,” he said in an interview. “To turn this on its head is disingenuous, and I take offense to it.”

Fredette said he was also making the point that no matter who you are, the state already makes early voting available through the absentee ballot process.

Mario Moretto

About Mario Moretto

Mario Moretto has been a Maine journalist, in print and online publications, since 2009. He joined the Bangor Daily News in 2012, first as a general assignment reporter in his native Hancock County and, now, in the State House. Mario left the BDN in 2015.