I was going to write a thoughtful column about how I support immunization requirements for health care workers, and then the state representative from two towns over compared the governor of Maine to an infamous Nazi murderer, and now I’m just worried that something is in the water. I mean, if that amount of bull hooey is coming out of Alfred, it could infect the groundwater in Buxton!

I speak, of course, of Rep. Heidi Sampson, R-Alfred, who, in a public speech Aug. 17, drew a comparison between the requirement that health care workers in Maine be vaccinated against COVID-19 as a condition of their employment and the “experiments” of Josef Mengele.

Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine has been fully approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Mengele injected dyes into the eyeballs of children to see if he could make them change color. These things are not alike, in any way, and to compare them is dangerous and violent rhetoric. It also dishonors the memory of the 6 million Jews and millions of others killed in concentration camps. Of course, I suspect Rep. Sampson knows this. Cruel and vicious leaders know there is always a sizable market share of cranks willing to give them attention and money and applause, and she is exploiting this. What I find concerning is the lack of response from her fellow elected Republicans.

My state representative is Nathan Carlow, R-Buxton. So I wrote him this email: “can you talk to Rep. Sampson about these statements because they are SUPER inappropriate and horrific on SO MANY LEVELS. Also as your constituent and a Maine Health employee, I would like it registered that I am fully in favor of the vaccination mandate for healthcare workers.”

I received a response that did not address my concern at all; it was a generic, polished email about how, while he agrees with the science behind vaccines, Rep. Carlow is against the vaccine mandate. I’m fairly certain it was a form letter. Which is fine. I’m used to being ignored, although it just goes to show how unimportant local newspapers are these days, if a politician is fine brushing off the concerns of a constituent who has weekly column space in the biggest newspaper in the state. But one line of his response really stood out to me: “It is imperative that the proliferation of vaccine misinformation be swiftly addressed, and lawmakers play a crucial role in combatting these lies.”

Yes, they do! And yet, Maine’s Republican representatives are not addressing Sampson’s misinformation, lies and inappropriate Holocaust references. I try to get along with everyone in my office, but if one of my coworkers compared someone to Josef Mengele, I would absolutely file a complaint with HR. (Not that HR would do much, but that’s another column.)

Buxton is a small town, and I’ve met Rep. Carlow a few times. There’s a lot to admire about him: He’s smart, talented and insanely hardworking. You have to be, in order to become the youngest state legislator in Maine’s history. (He’s 22, which makes him Gen Z.) There are two possible reasons why he is letting Sampson’s comments slide: One, he might agree with them, and think there was nothing wrong with what she said. I do not think this is the case. Which leaves me with a second theory: Being young and talented, he’s got his whole career ahead of him, and he’s figured that the best way to climb the ladder is to go along to get along. Local politics in a small state isn’t the sort of place where making a splash is rewarded.

And I get it. It’s hard standing up to bullies. There were times in school where I didn’t stand up to people, or for people, the way I should have. Doing the right thing usually means not doing the easy thing, and nobody wants to be the first one to stick their neck out. But if Rep. Sampson experiences no consequences for her words and actions, she’ll just keep doing them. Worse, it will signal that what she is saying is socially acceptable, and just fine with the Republican political establishment in Maine. That’s how you mainstream hate. That’s how you mainstream anti-vaccination propaganda.

The stakes are high. Another colleague of Carlow and Sampson, Rep. Chris Johansen of Monticello (a gorgeous town at the top of the state that I’ve driven through several times, as it so happens), and his wife, Cindy, contracted COVID-19 last month. They had both refused vaccination. Chris survived. Cindy did not.

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:
[email protected]
Twitter: @mainemillennial


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