February 26, 2020

Youth Movement 20-somethings make Capitol gains in 124th Maine Legislature

BANGOR – Adam Goode won Maine’s House District 15 (Bangor) race on Tuesday with more than 70 percent of the vote. He’s 25, by the way.

Steven Butterfield, just one year older, had a tighter race in House District 16 (Bangor) against Doug Damon, an established political name, but still prevailed with 56 percent of the vote.

Henry Beck, at the tender age of 22, ran unopposed in House District 76 (Waterville) and soon will be the youngest legislator in the State House.

After the Election Day dust settled, Maine’s 124th Legislature is poised to be well-represented by Generation Y, at least in House districts north of Augusta. In all, six House candidates who are all in their 20s won elections in northern and eastern Maine districts, joining two other 20-somethings who were re-elected.

The infusion of youth shakes up a state government often controlled by the retired or semiretired, but these newly elected representatives insist they are not short on experience.

Beck, for instance, graduated to the State House after a two-year stint on the Waterville City Council.

“I felt I ran with a solid record of experience,” said Beck, a Colby College student. “No one can be 100 percent prepared, but the people [in my district] made their own judgment.”

Goode, who has been a community organizer for the Maine People’s Alliance since 2005, used his grass-roots acumen to his advantage.

“I couldn’t have had any better experience than spending three summers knocking on doors,” he said Thursday from MPA’s offices in Bangor.

Butterfield has been working for nonprofits and think tanks on various policy issues for years, but more importantly, he said, he’s living the same struggles as most Mainers.

“I’ve worked three part-time jobs just to get by,” he said. “I don’t have health insurance at the moment. I’ve had that experience of scraping to get by.”

Also elected on Tuesday were: Tyler Clark, 23, in House District 6 (Fort Fairfield, Mars Hill), Elspeth “Elsie” Flemings, 25, in House District 35 (Bar Harbor, Southwest Harbor), and Andrew O’Brien, 29, in House District 44 (Searsmont, Lincolnville).

Benjamin Pratt, 29, also was re-elected to his second term in House District 20 (Eddington, Dedham, Clifton), and Emily Cain, 28, was unopposed in her re-election bid for House District 19 (Orono).

James Melcher, a political scientist at the University of Maine-Farmington, said the recent trend is encouraging considering the fact that Maine has one of the oldest populations in the country.

“I’m not sure it’s a clear generation shift, but most of the young people I know that ran, ran with Clean Election funds,” he said, referring to the public campaign financing system. “Certainly, that has allowed some who don’t have money to be able to jump into these races.”

Flemings, a recent graduate of College of the Atlantic and coordinator of the Union River Watershed Coalition, said Clean Election funds certainly made it possible for her to run.

“I think it really helps everyone committed to public service work have a chance to do so,” she said.

She didn’t think the youth movement is necessarily new, though.

“When smart, creative young people run, they are often supported,” she said. “From what I’ve heard, folks in the Legislature really seem to appreciate a variety.”

Maine has a citizen legislature, which means that other than a small stipend, senators and representatives donate a significant amount of time. The nature of the service, particularly during legislative sessions, makes it difficult for many who have demanding jobs to juggle both, which is why older Mainers often run for office.

“You do make sacrifices, and you certainly don’t do it for the money,” Beck said.

Goode plans to keep his job at the Maine People’s Alliance, a 32,000-member citizen action group that advocates economic and social justice, but said he’s confident he can be an effective representative.

“I think the comforting thing to me is knowing that I’m not there making decisions on my own,” he said.

Butterfield said he plans to be a full-time legislator, at least during sessions, and will cobble together work the rest of the year.

“I’ve been living frugally since I was 18,” he joked.

How these 20-somethings plan to govern remains to be seen. Most are Democrats. Most agreed that economic and budget issues are likely to dominate discussion for the foreseeable future. All seem genuinely committed to service.

“I think there has been a lot of exaggeration of the ‘brain drain’ theory,” Melcher said, referring to a phenomenon of Maine youth leaving the state to find good jobs. “Having young, qualified people in visible State House positions will certainly help dispel that even more.”



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