This month’s elections were defined by high voter turnout, the triumph of Maine’s first female governor-elect and many other women who pulled off their own stunning and historic victories. Among them are a young visionary who was the first Democrat elected in the rural district she calls home, a common-sense reformer who became district attorney for the mid-coast, and a new community-minded chair of the Bangor City Council.

“I’ve spent my life fighting for Maine,” said Chloe Maxmin, the 26-year-old Nobleboro native, Emerge Maine and Harvard graduate who won her bid to represent rural state House District 88, becoming the first Democrat ever to do so. “This is just an extension of that. Whether we like it or not, everything in our lives depends on our political system, and we need to figure out different ways of running campaigns, figure out how to actually represent the people — with respect and dignity for everybody.”

Recognizing that, for most in Maine, “politics as usual is failing,” Maxmin’s campaign sought to break down the progressive and conservative divide that plagues politics and unify voters based on the needs of people in District 88, which includes Chelsea, Whitefield, Jefferson, and part of Nobleboro.

“It doesn’t matter what party you’re in if you can’t afford health care or to get a good education,” she said. “There’s something that’s higher than politics, and that’s our humanity. We’ve lost sight of that.”

Maxmin and her campaign manager, Canyon Woodward, who met during their time at Harvard working on the Divest Harvard anti-fossil fuel campaign, both grew up in rural communities. They knew intimately how campaign resources are often diverted to more populous urban areas, leading to a drought of political outreach in places where Democrats have time and time again lost to Republicans.

Maxmin ran on a platform of increasing the “affordability [of] and accessibility to in-home care and healthcare while fostering new creative businesses and investing in our schools,” as well as investing in reliable public transportation and renewable energy.

“All of these little rural towns across the country, no one reaches out to [them]. No one drives down [their] long driveways,” she said. “No one wants to hear the very different views that we have here, or about the strong values that make us who we are. It’s a different kind of campaign than if you’re running in an urban area.”

Social media, she added, doesn’t achieve the same results as a winding trail of genuine conversation in rural areas, where adequate broadband and cellular services are hard to come by. In an article Maxmin wrote for The Nation about her campaign, she recounted how, after speaking to a man in his trailer located off the beaten path of a dirt road, she won him over.

“You’re the first person to listen to me,” he told her.

These conversations, which allowed for the individual attention most rural voters don’t often experience, evidently paid off for Maxmin. She earned about 53 percent of the vote, beating Republican opponent Michael Lemelin by roughly five points and becoming one of the state’s youngest representatives.

The race for District 6 district attorney — or the chief prosecutor position for Knox, Waldo, Sagadahoc, and Lincoln counties — ended with 35-year-old defense attorney and Emerge Maine graduate Natasha Irving defeating her opponent, Republican Jonathan Liberman, with over 55 percent of the vote. She was not only the first woman and first Democrat to clinch the position, but also the first person to unseat an incumbent district attorney in Maine.

Her constituency lives in some of the same towns Maxmin will represent, and during the campaign Irving was similarly focused on voter contact.

Like affordable health care and education, Irving found Mainers’ opinions about criminal justice did not fall predictably along partisan lines.

“About 80 percent of people in the country believe the criminal justice system is broken and needs to be fixed,” Irving said. “We have extremely similar ideas on the Left and the Right about how that needs to be fixed: It’s lowering incarceration rates by not locking people up for nonviolent offenses. It’s making sure [to abolish] cash bail. Keeping people in jail because they can’t pay a $60 bail commissioner fee or a $500 bail is fundamentally un-American.”

Her campaign to bring “common-sense” criminal justice reform to the four counties drew widespread support from Democrats and Republicans alike. When it comes to criminal justice, she observed, the distinction between progressives and conservatives doesn’t necessarily matter. What matters is, does a candidate “believe in reform and fixing a broken system, or do [they] believe what’s going on right now works?”

“Because if you do, you’re not seeing the writing on the wall,” she said.

Outside of criminal justice, Irving is concerned with workers’ rights — mentioning she would, if her staff chooses to unionize, be supportive of “their right” to do so — and women’s reproductive rights, and is also  a self-described advocate for a more “rational” health system that isn’t centered on private insurers.

Twenty-eight-year-old Emerge graduate Sarah Nichols was re-elected to the Bangor City Council this month, receiving the most votes of any elected city councilor, and was unanimously chosen to become the council’s chair last week.

In a speech Nichols gave following the vote and an uproarious applause, she reflected on her graduation from the University of Maine, a moment she was “fortunate” enough to share with her mother, a fellow graduate.

Despite the inherent obstacles of single parenthood, like struggling to support her family, work a full-time job, and pursue a higher education, Nichols’ mother managed to obtain her first undergraduate degree and march right behind her daughter.

“I truly thought all the issues she faced growing up — that [are] not unlike the issues other Maine families face — would all be over for,” Nichols said in her speech. “But six years later, she’s still working at the same place, doing a similar job, and is still not able to turn that hard work into something that will earn her real security going into retirement.”

“I believe it is wrong that people who work hard don’t get ahead,” she continued, “and that was the sole principle of why I ran for office in the first place.”

As chair, Nichols spoke to an ever-present trend of “needing to push” for the change the council wants to happen: to ensure the people who work in Bangor can afford to live in the city by, for instance, expanding transportation and broadband infrastructure.

“I have a challenge for each councilor this year,” Nichols added, noting the council’s historic diversity still only gives voice to some perspectives and not others. “I challenge you to truly think hard when we are trying to choose the right path for Bangor, and put yourself in the shoes of another, and think beyond how our decision will affect someone like you.”

In her call for inclusion, Nichols listed women, men, non-binary, LGBTQ, people of color, immigrants, indigenous people, youth, seniors, workers, the disabled, and those in recovery as among the manifold perspectives that “exist within our” city’s borders.

Each perspective “deserves to be considered and deserves to have a stake in how our community grows,” she said.

Joining Nichols on the Bangor City Council is Gretchen Schaefer, 43, an instructional technologist interested in making Bangor “a welcoming, accessible place to live for both the young and the old” who was newly elected this month. Schaefer summed up her own desire to run for office as an answer to a familiar question.

“I thought, ‘If other people can run, why can’t I?’” she said.

 

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