The beards are back!

Prevent Harm organizer Emma Halas-O'Connor speaks at Wednesday's rally.

Prevent Harm organizer Emma Halas-O’Connor speaks at Wednesday’s rally.

Yesterday, Prevent Harm, a new political advocacy group focused on protecting the public from toxic chemicals, launched its “Fear the Beard Campaign” with a rally at the Eastern Promenade Playground in Portland. They describe the effort as a grassroots campaign aimed at reminding Maine voters of Governor Paul LePage’s close ties to the chemical industry and that he has “consistently undermined and attempted to roll back Maine’s chemical safety protections throughout his tenure.”

The name of the campaign is a reference to LePage’s controversial 2011 statement that the worst that would happen due to his attempt to stymie regulation of the hormone-disrupting chemical Bisphenol-A (BPA) is that “some women may have little beards.”

The comment prompted significant backlash at the time, including an online campaign of women across Maine posting photos of themselves with fake facial hair.

One of the interesting things I found while researching and writing As Maine Went is that despite the attention LePage’s strange and often offensive remarks have attracted, few of them have had much effect on policy. His “little beards” statement may be the exception, however.

Rather than being able to pass his industry-written legislation eliminating BPA protections and weakening the Kid-Safe Products Act through the Republican-controlled legislature that year, he was eventually forced to use his veto pen to stop a bill that would have instead strengthened the Act. (The veto was sustained by Republicans in the State Senate.)

Since then, LePage has continued to stand against any attempt to improve public protection from toxic chemicals. He has also been able to advance some of his anti-regulatory agenda through administrative actions at the Department of Environmental Protection, helmed by Patricia Aho, a former lobbyist for the chemical industry. This has including demoting and firing staff that worked on BPA and other toxics issues (employees there have described it as a “reign of terror”) and delaying the implementation of protections under the Kid-Safe Products Act.

Earlier this year, after lobbying by corporate lobbyists funded by Koch Industries, a major producer of formaldehyde, LePage’s DEP withdrew a proposed rule they had previously submitted requiring reporting of the use of the cancer-causing chemical in children’s products.

Prevent Harm supporters are hoping that there’s still some power in the beards to draw public attention to LePage’s record on toxic chemicals and galvanize Maine voters against his re-election.

Hannah Pingree, the former Speaker of the Maine House who worked to pass some of the protections from toxic chemicals that LePage has sought to dismantle, is a co-founder of the group and spoke at the event.

“As a former legislator, I was honored to work with colleagues on both sides of the aisle who did what was right for children’s health, even in the face of fierce opposition from the powerful out-of-state chemical industry,” said Pingree. “And as the mother of two young kids, I’m passionate that this work continues. We need a new Governor and legislature who won’t deny the serious health threats from toxic chemicals, who will listen to Maine moms and dads, and who don’t place chemical industry profits above our kids’ futures. That’s why we’ve formed Prevent Harm and why we’re launching the “Fear the Beard” campaign.”

Mike Tipping

About Mike Tipping

Mike writes about Maine politics and policy with a focus on analysis and explanation. He works at the Maine People's Alliance and Maine People's Resource Center, writes a political column for the Portland Press Herald