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Rep. Bettyann Sheats, Military Mom: Fighting Toxic Chemicals and Climate Change

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The news on cabinet picks from the Trump team is making my head spin. For that reason, I am continuing to drill down on the importance of impact at the hyperlocal level.

During the next four years, this is where the most important work will happen.

For all those discouraged people who lament, "I can't make a difference," meet Bettyann Sheats.

I spoke with Sheats by telephone, and we discussed her trajectory to becoming an elected representative of the people.

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On November 8, Sheats won the race for Maine's 64th District State House seat. You may not have heard of Sheats, but the politics of Maine got plenty of coverage this past election cycle. The state's governor, Paul LePage, created his own side show which ran several news cycles when he made a series of outrageous comments. This included leaving an "unfriendly" voice message for a Democratic state legislator.

Fortunately, Sheats will not be easily intimidated. Her background includes graduating from West Point (1980-1984). Sheats was on active duty for eight years, during which time she served as a helicopter pilot.

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Military training has clearly influenced the way Sheats approaches and assesses a situation. It's about evaluating the mission and carrying it out; being proactive and getting the job done.

Case in point: When Sheats' daughter was young, they enjoyed making beaded charm bracelets together. Sheats discovered that there was lead in the charms. Immediately, she took it upon herself to research her concerns.

Sheats concluded that there could be lead, cadmium, BPA and a range of other toxic chemicals in products that were common to household use -- and specifically to children.

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"I also found that all of these chemicals can lead to serious health affects like learning disabilities, reproductive harm, and cancer," Sheats related. "That's why I became involved with passing the Kid Safe Products Act in Maine, which has helped ban BPA (Bisphenol A) from baby bottles, sippy cups, baby food and infant formula packaging."

While getting involved with this issue, Sheats learned that she enjoyed engaging her neighbors about concerns that were impacting them. "I liked talking to legislators about how to fix the problem. That's how I got involved in politics," she said.

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Marcia G. Yerman is a writer, activist, artist and curator based in New York City. Her articles--profiles, interviews, reporting and essays--focus on women's issues, the environment, human rights, the arts and culture. Her writing has been (more...)

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