When Susan Dench was nominated to the University of Maine System board of trustees by Gov. Paul LePage last month, it was the first time many in the state had heard her name.

Her nomination would prove historic, but for dubious reasons: Dench was the first nominee to the university board since at least the 1970s to be rejected by the Legislature. The vote fell along party lines, with Democrats opposing her confirmation.

“I think this is really a partisan vote that was a stick in the eye to Governor LePage,” Dench said afterward.

Before she was thrust into the political spotlight, the Falmouth Republican was a longtime marketing professional and saleswoman. Her 20-year career includes working for General Electric, starting her own clothing brand aimed at the affluent, a 2010 attempt at her own line of luxury dog beds, and recently, authoring two self-published self-help books, according to news accounts and Dench’s resume.

But those were not the focus of lawmakers’ attention during a confirmation hearing last Friday, when she met sharp resistance from Democrats who objected to her views on family and gender roles and education policy.

As a conservative blogger and columnist for the Bangor Daily News from September 2013 to July 2014, Dench was one of the rare outspoken female conservative voices in Maine, regularly taking positions in her 39 columns and blog posts that liberal and moderate women find uncomfortable. Some of her critics have said that her social politics hearken back to the 1950s and show an atavistic desire to return to a more genteel time when women were subservient to men and the nuclear family ruled.


Dench did not respond to requests for comment for this story, but her columns and other remarks published online paint a portrait of a woman whose zeal for conservative politics is matched, perhaps, only by her enthusiasm for self-improvement; someone who holds her personal values up to society as a mirror and often does not like what she sees reflecting back.

“She’s very positive, very proactive, a very bright woman, and able to bring a lot of different women together to say, ‘Hey we’re concerned about how we spend our money,'” said Ginger Taylor, a member of the Informed Women’s Network, a fiscally conservative women’s group that Dench founded.

“She’s not a terribly critical person; its more like, ‘How can we make things work together?’ She’s a good woman.”

In her columns, Dench’s style is sharp, playful and assertive.

Her Twitter feed is a mixture of self-promotional links to her personal blog, national political jabs at President Barack Obama, stories published by the conservative British newspaper the Daily Mail, and The Wall Street Journal.

In one tweet, she congratulates a 1990s TV celebrity Candace Cameron Bure, who extolled the biblical definition of “submissiveness” as a key to a successful marriage.


“She gets it!” Dench tweeted.

Dench argued against raising the minimum wage, which she believes “undercuts the very freedom that makes the American dream work,” as she wrote in a March 2014 column. “Employers are not unscrupulous industrialists who greedily hoard profits at the expense of their workers. If you don’t like where you work, you are free to seek employment elsewhere. You can go to school or start your own business, but you are not bound to a company which doesn’t meet your financial needs.”

She is distrustful of teachers’ unions and believes in private schools, with their greater leeway to shift policy and “turn the ship on a dime.”

Dench also has lamented the loss of the classical sense of manhood in American culture, pointing the “Peter Pan syndrome” of adult men who refuse to take on the responsibilities commensurate with their age. Women, meanwhile, continue to achieve, leaving them to either go it alone for major life events or “marry down,” Dench writes.

“Either alternative seems frightening. Perhaps we cannot return altogether to the simpler society in which, generally, men protected and provided, and women nurtured and comforted. But the implications of what has happened to gender roles and the family need serious consideration and action if we are to produce future generations of mature, responsible adults.”

Perhaps most controversially, Dench wrote in an October 2013 column that lays the morally dubious “hook-up culture” at the feet of feminists.


“In the traditional world, women brought out the best in their men, who subsumed their more base instincts as they fought hard to earn and win the respect of the women they loved,” Dench wrote. “By advocating ‘sexual empowerment,’ feminists have sold yet another bill of goods to women, telling them to enjoy a carefree, commitment-free sexual lifestyle which actually results in the denigration of women. Now the men get that, while women are left desperately longing for more.”

Cynthia Dill, who stands far to the left of Dench on the political spectrum, said she met Dench after a twitter exchange last year and had coffee with her.

The two found much in common — both are married and have children; both are interested in politics — and said from all that she had heard and knew of Dench, she believed she was qualified to serve on the UMaine board.

“I think people are so used to hearing the conservative shtick from (men), but when they hear it from a woman and so eloquently, it surprises people,” Dill said. “I couldn’t help but wonder, the committee and the Senate rejected her nomination for her strong views about gender and other things, but I wonder if we even know the views of the people who were confirmed.”

Dill was referring to two other LePage nominees, James Donnelly, of Brewer, and Samuel Collins, of Caribou, who were confirmed unanimously.

“Who knows? Maybe they have the same beliefs, or they just didn’t express them,” Dill said.

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