Some see retirement as the great escape, a hard-earned chance to tune out the clatter and chatter of this crazier-by-the-minute world and let the younger people figure it all out.

Others don’t.

“It’s like goodness itself is being trampled in every possible way,” Rachel Burger of South Portland lamented Friday while all around her, heads of gray and white hair nodded in agreement. “Being human is at stake.”

They call themselves Elders for Future Generations, a tacit acknowledgment that time is fleeting and they won’t be around forever.

But rather than disengage in their old age, they gather every other Friday at the University of Southern Maine’s Wishcamper Center to talk, to listen, to strategize and, when necessary, to confront. More on that last one in a minute.

It all started back in 2013 at USM’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, also known as OLLI. Fred Brancato of Portland had taught a number of courses for OLLI, from world religions to tai chi, when he rolled out a series of weekend meetings for elders simply to discuss, in depth, the world around them.


“I got the idea that there were many other older people who felt alone with the issues and needed a support community,” recalled Brancato, 80. “And also that the voices of elders was an especially powerful thing.”

Fifteen people took the course. When it was over, no one wanted to stop.

Five years later, the group has swelled to some 140 members. Some are more active than others, but even those who can’t attend the bimonthly gatherings stay tethered via emails, calls to action and the group’s website (

Most of the members by far are women. Their political persuasions lean decidedly to the left – not because they wouldn’t welcome conservatives, but because few if any ever show up.

These days, not surprisingly, they’ve got politics on their minds – which brings us back to that confrontation part.

Just over two weeks ago, the elders invited Alan Caron and Terry Hayes to come and discuss their independent candidacies for governor. Tom Mikulka of Cape Elizabeth, a member of the group, later provided me a tape of the session.


Caron went first, speaking for 45 minutes about his vision for Maine. Then, Brancato cut to the chase.

“Alan, now there’s a question … that’s unasked at this point,” he said.

“Let me guess,” quipped Caron, well aware that it was time to talk about his pledge, made in a Maine Sunday Telegram column back in March, that he would publicly withdraw from the race “if it is clear by mid-October that I cannot win the election.”

With that, Caron embarked on a lengthy dissertation about the value of independent candidates not as spoilers, but as an antidote to the two-party system. He also recapped the 2010 election, in which independent Eliot Cutler surged in the final weeks to within a percent or two of Republican winner Paul LePage, while Democrat Elizabeth Mitchell plummeted to a distant third-place finish.

“The independent wasn’t what brought the (Democratic) nominee down,” Caron said. “The nominee brought the nominee down by not running an effective campaign and not offering new ideas.”

Brancato, while appreciative of the “great background,” persisted: “The question here that we would ask you is what are you going to do if you see that you are not going to win?”


Again, Caron went backward to Cutler and, even further, to independent Angus King’s election to the Blaine House in 1994. “Remember,” he cautioned, “most voters don’t pay attention until mid-October.”

Again, Brancato leaned in: “With all due respect, you’re not answering the question.”

Finally, Caron acknowledged the promise he made last spring to drop out if he failed to gain traction. “I am, as far as I know, the only candidate who’s ever made such a pledge and I will assuredly carry it out,” he said.

Enter Hayes. She too spoke at length about her candidacy – and she too eventually collided with what several of the elders called the “Cutler effect.”

“Will you make a commitment, if you are very close to the election and you have a small percentage of the votes, that you will throw your support behind one of the two major candidates?” a woman asked. “Will you withdraw?”

“No,” Hayes replied flatly.


That’s when things got testy.

“I’m not going to make it easy for you,” Hayes said. “Put on your big girl and your big boy panties and vote for who you think is the best person or who you think can win. That’s entirely on you.”

The audience pushed back. One woman, drawing a straight line from the outgoing LePage to current Republican candidate Shawn Moody, expressed dismay that Hayes would “want to subject your family to eight more years of this.”

“We’re going to have the government we deserve no matter what shakes out on Nov. 6,” said Hayes, who served as a member of the Legislature’s Democratic leadership before running successfully as an independent for state treasurer in 2014. “And you know what? If neither of the parties can nominate someone that can win a multicandidate race, you want me to solve that problem? Not my problem to solve.”

Ripples from the previous session were still evident Friday. Several group members said they were impressed with the content of both Caron’s and Hayes’ presentations.

Yet many also said they continue to grapple with the fact that neither independent appears close to either Moody, who has yet to respond to an invitation to meet with the elders, or Democratic candidate Janet Mills, who on Friday sent former Portland mayor and state lawmaker Michael Brennan to speak on her behalf. But one or both of the independents, they feared, may take just enough votes away from Mills to throw the election to Moody.


“If there was ranked-choice voting (in the governor’s race), I might just vote for (Caron or Hayes),” said Kristina MacCormick of Portland. “But without it, I just can’t consider it.”

Then it was on to other business: The League of Women Voters get-out-the-vote drive. A collective letter to U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, with whom members of the group have met, decrying her vote to confirm U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

As the meeting ended, one woman stood at the classroom’s white board posting the California mailing address for Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, whose allegation of sexual assault almost derailed Kavanaugh’s nomination.

“I wrote a letter of support to her,” she said. “Others might want to, too.”

Slow down? This crowd?

Not a chance. In the immortal words of singer Bonnie Raitt, “Life gets mighty precious when there’s less of it to waste.”

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

[email protected]

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