A debate on Maine’s status as oldest, whitest

Editor’s Note: He Said, She Said is taking a break this week. Instead, we’ve posed a question to Mike Cianchette, the Republican part of the He Said, She Said duo, and guest columnist Ian Grady. They have offered responses from their respective points of view. Cynthia Dill will return next week.

 

Maine is the oldest and whitest state in the nation. Is that a problem? And does it mean Maine isn’t diverse?

Cianchette: Maine’s challenge is generational, not racial — how do we create opportunity here?

Michael Cianchette

Michael Cianchette

Is being the oldest state a problem? Absolutely.

If demographics are destiny, then Maine’s status as the oldest state in the union means our destiny is bleak. Unless we can change that trajectory, we will find ourselves in a self-perpetuating spiral of older, poorer citizens requiring more and more services, with fewer and fewer young people generating the charitable giving and tax revenue needed to provide those services. We are a microcosm of ChinaItalyJapan, and others.

In order to defuse this demographic time-bomb, we need my generation to come or stay home and also entice others to come here. Those who have left include many of my friends and classmates from high school. Every year at Thanksgiving, many of them return home for the holiday. Annually, I ask each: “when are you coming back to Maine?” And their answers are inevitably the same: “I would love to, but there isn’t enough opportunity here.”

They identify the one solution to our problem: opportunity. Some might argue that the lack of opportunity stems from a lack of racial diversity. But Maine’s status as the whitest state is neither good nor bad. To quote Bill Belichick, “it is what it is.” Opportunity is not contingent on an individual’s race, nor should it be our sole measure of diversity.

We have one of the largest populations of individuals described as religious “nones,” while the “two Maines” divide is seen in everything frompopulation growth to thegay marriage referendum. We are in the midst of significant policy debates with strong diversity of opinion, whether it is marijuana, bear management, or Medicaid expansion. A person does not need to come from another continent to check an imaginary “diversity” box.

Our challenge is generational, not racial. That leaves a simple question for all of us, regardless of political party, ZIP code, or line of work: how do we create opportunity in Maine? Everyone has their own opinion on that, myself included, but that debate must be had in order to right the course. Doing nothing will likely to take us no further than the scene of the crash.

Many young Mainers want to stay here or come home, while Americans and immigrants alike know this is a beautiful, clean, safe state. In order to leverage these assets, Augusta must create a regulatory and tax environment where opportunity can take root and thrive. Without it, we are going off the cliff. With it, Maine can once again be in control of her own destiny.

Republican Michael Cianchette is former chief counsel to Gov. Paul LePage, a Navy reservist who served in Afghanistan and in-house counsel to a number of businesses in southern Maine.

Grady: Maine needs a good ambassador as its chief executive

Ian Grady

Ian Grady

Maine needs to be welcoming new residents — including immigrants — to our great state, so we can increase our diversity and help grow the economy. And we need to embrace Maine’s seniors as a resource and ensure that everyone has what they need to be happy and healthy.

Maine’s population growth has stagnated. Often the focus is on keeping young Mainers in our state, but it’s unlikely that such efforts alone will be enough to reverse the population trends — and they certainly won’t make Maine more diverse.

We’ve got to bring more people to our state and it should be an easy sell. Maine is a great place to live, work and grow a family. Especially for immigrants in search of new opportunities, it is a great place to see your American dreams fulfilled.

Last year, I worked with Portland Adult Education, where I met dozens of inspiring immigrants. The folks I met were there to learn English and job skills or pursue other educational offerings. They had come to America — often escaping war or other terrors — in search of a better future, and they were willing to work very hard to achieve it.

Maine needs as many new residents like that as it can get. But, with 49 other states to choose from, there is stiff competition. Which is why we need leaders who are good ambassadors of our state nationally and internationally — something that’s sorely lacking in the Blaine House today.

Our current governor has falsely claimed that 47 percent of able-bodied Mainers don’t work, he has fabricated that our students are required to take a special test to attend The College of William & Mary in Virginia. To the observer, our governor doesn’t seem to think very highly of Maine people.

Certainly, this won’t help Maine attract new residents who can increase our diversity and provide vitality to our workforce.

Speaking of vitality, older Mainers have much to offer our communities and our economy. Whether people have sought out Maine as a place to retire or have spent their whole lives here, seniors are an essential part of our state’s social fabric, and it’s time we treated them as such.

House Speaker Mark Eves’ groundbreaking KeepME Home initiative and U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud’s 10-point plan for improving health care,” which would both help keep seniors in their homes and in their communities, show us how senior and elderly Mainers are not a “burden” of any kind, but rather a great resource for our communities both socially and economically.

Young or old, American-born or in your newfound home, Maine is an incredible place to be. With time — and the right policies and leadership — many more people will see that.

Ian Grady is a communications and political consultant to various progressive and LGBT causes. He has worked on campaigns to win the freedom to marry around the country and served as the digital director for Maine’s victorious marriage campaign in 2012. Formerly the communications director of EqualityMaine, he has since worked with numerous clients here in Maine and across the nation. His email address is ICGrady207@gmail.com.