Rep. Dillon Bates, D-Westbrook, has been accused of some of the worst kinds of abuse of power that a teacher or coach can face.

Rep. Dillon Bates

A cloud of suspicion has hovered over the two-term member of the Maine House since a story in the alternative monthly magazine “The Bollard” reported last week that he had at least three inappropriate sexual relationships with teenagers. The story alleges that Bates met them when he was a drama teacher at Maine Girls’ Academy in Portland, education director at the Schoolhouse Arts Center in Standish and cross-country coach at Massabesic High School. Through his lawyer, Bates says that the allegations are “completely baseless” but he has nevertheless resigned from those positions.

The one job he is stubbornly holding onto, though, is his seat in the Maine House. It is past time for Bates to relinquish that as well. Bates should resign now. Bates has not been charged with any crimes, but, if he were, he would be entitled to the presumption of innocence. But while he has a right to be considered innocent until proven guilty in court, he does not have a right to serve as a legislator. That is a position of honor, and it’s important that anyone who holds it abide by the highest ethical standards.

In the political arena, there is no presumption of innocence. Candidates who don’t appear to be above board typically lose their elections.

It may not be fair, but it’s important because people need to have trust in their representatives. The Maine House will suffer if the public believes it harbors powerful people who prey on students under their supervision.

House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, has called on Bates to resign. So far he has refused. Rep. Paula Sutton, R-Warren, has called for a hearing before the House Ethics Committee. That would require a two-thirds vote in the House, which could not occur until the chamber reconvenes for a special session sometime before the end of the year. If Bates doesn’t resign before then, an ethics investigation would be in order.

But Bates should not drag this out for that long. He may maintain his innocence, but he has lost the public’s trust and he cannot adequately represent his constituents while under that cloud.

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