This week, state Rep. Larry Lockman, a Republican from Amherst, responded to a blog post I wrote revealing that he had a long history of making extreme and offensive remarks attacking gays and lesbians and people with HIV/AIDS, justifying rape, recommending people join him in refusing to pay their taxes and expressing admiration for a tax evader who killed federal law enforcement agents.

“I have always been passionate about my beliefs, and years ago I said things that I regret. I hold no animosity toward anyone by virtue of their gender or sexual orientation, and today I am focused on ensuring freedom and economic prosperity for all Mainers,” said Lockman in a written statement released by the House Republican Office on Wednesday. He refused to talk to reporters or offer further comment.

Lockman’s brief response leaves a lot to be desired. He doesn’t technically apologize for his remarks, address any of them directly, show any contrition toward the people and groups he has attacked or indicate that his views have changed.

The voters of his district will have to decide whether this response is enough. I imagine that he’ll no longer be representing them in the Legislature after November.

Let’s put aside the disgust we might feel at his statements, however, leave Lockman to his role as a political footnote and instead focus on how this episode illustrates just how much our state’s politics and public discourse have improved.

Twenty and 30 years ago, gay and lesbian Mainers faced a great deal more discrimination and hate than they do today, and women had much less power. Someone who made these kinds of statements could continue to have his views printed in major newspapers and could play a leadership role in political organizations.

When Lockman served as spokesperson for the citizens group Concerned Maine Families, the group’s 1997 citizen initiative banning same-sex marriage didn’t even make it to a referendum. It went directly into law with overwhelming support in the Maine Legislature. Today, marriage equality is a fundamental right in Maine, enshrined in law by a vote of the people of the state.

When Mike Michaud supported a gay rights bill as a state representative in 1988, Lockman ran against him on a “pro-family” platform, attacking him viciously for being a tool of “militant homosexuals.” Today, Michaud is out himself and has a good chance of becoming the country’s first openly gay governor.

In the early 1990s, Lockman asserted that, if abortion is legal, “why shouldn’t a man be free to use his superior strength to force himself on a woman? At least the rapist’s pursuit of sexual freedom doesn’t (in most cases) result in anyone’s death.”

Then, the only attention the remark received was a letter to the editor in one newspaper. Now, 20 years later, the re-emergent quote is exposed and mocked by female authors with audiences in the millions at national websites like The Huffington Post and Wonkette.

This is not to say that our politics are now perfect. Rather than emphatically rebuking Lockman, the official response from Republican leaders was tepid, with House Minority Leader Ken Fredette noting only that he himself didn’t “condone” the statements.

One former Republican legislator, Jon McKane, even took to Twitter to defend Lockman. He claimed the remarks were taken out of context, acknowledged the Amherst legislator as a “policy soul mate” and hailed him as someone who “uses common sense” and “continuously tells the truth about liberals.”

These responses (and the much more strident defenses of Lockman’s remarks by posters in newspaper comment sections and on right-wing message boards) show the right still has a problem with this kind of extremism and that the Republican Party’s tea party wing, of which Lockman was an outspoken leader, holds a great deal of sway.

Overall, however, the public reaction to Lockman’s words and actions gives me hope.

“I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice,” wrote abolitionist Theodore Parker in 1857, a quote later famously paraphrased by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Today, thanks to one controversial man’s public history, we’ve been given a clear glimpse of the proportions of the curve of that arc and have been reassured that in Maine it continues to bend toward justice.

Mike Tipping is a political junkie who works for the Maine People’s Alliance. He can be contacted at:

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Twitter: @miketipping