As the least racially diverse state in the nation, it has been easy for white Mainers to ignore the structures of racism that exist throughout our society. This has caused our fellow Mainers to suffer greatly. Over 400 years of policies designed to segregate, marginalize and economically oppress racial, Indigenous and tribal populations have resulted in pervasive inequities that haunt this country and our state.

Black Mainers are six times as likely to be incarcerated as white Mainers. A woman who is a representative of racial, Indigenous or tribal populations with a college degree earns only slightly more than a white man with a high school diploma in Maine. While three-quarters of white Mainers own their own home, the same is true for less than one in four Black Mainers. Mainers who are representatives of racial, Indigenous or tribal populations typically experience unemployment and poverty at twice the rate of white Mainers. Black Mainers are 20 times more likely to experience COVID-19 than white Mainers.

Throughout the summer of 2020, people of all ages, races and backgrounds took to the streets to call for racial justice in the United States after the public murder of George Floyd, a Black man, at the hands of law enforcement. These protests echoed in Maine as folks gathered to voice their outrage, pain, exhaustion and desire for meaningful change.

As your legislators, it is our duty to listen, advocate on your behalf and enact policies that support all Mainers. In the past, we have addressed racial inequity in smaller fragments. But we have not critically examined our entire system of government, laws and our practices as a whole in order to understand what needs to change if we want future generations to inherit a more just society.

In Congress and in every state legislature, it is past time we begin governing with an eye towards how policies impact racial disparities.

As Maine legislators, we have found discussions around race have never been a central part of crafting legislation. There has not been a process to guide those conversations or to analyze racial impact when legislation is being considered. As a result, our state has not established sufficient policies to truly combat racial disparities for those who call Maine home. We must do better.

In Maine, we benefit from having the newly formed Permanent Commission on the Status of Racial, Indigenous and Maine Tribal Populations to act as an advisory arm for all branches of government. The Permanent Commission examines racial disparities across all systems and works to improve the status and outcomes for historically disadvantaged racial, Indigenous and tribal populations in Maine.

Its membership, made up of a majority of people of racial, Indigenous and tribal populations, includes representatives from sovereign tribal nations, policy and service organizations, labor, educational and faith-based institutions and people from impacted communities who all bring relevant lived and professional expertise.

As legislators, we had the opportunity to utilize the Permanent Commission’s expertise this summer and to collaborate with them to reimagine our approach to lawmaking when it comes to racial disparities. Rep. McCreight along with fifty-four other Maine legislators collaborated with the Permanent Commission to examine all 454 active bills before the Legislature for their impact on racial disparities. We asked questions about how bills would exacerbate or alleviate some of the most common disparities that exist across the criminal justice system, education, health care, environmental regulation, labor and housing. We talked openly, we took advantage of the expertise each participant brought to the table, we engaged constituencies and we looked at legislation in a way we never have before.

The final report from the Permanent Commission recommends 26 specific bills for the 129th Legislature to pass, and also notes 20 bills that could combat disparities with some additional work. But, perhaps more importantly, it recommends issues future Legislatures should take up, and outlines a process to change how we legislate long term. That involves putting racial equity at the heart of our lawmaking by acknowledging disparities, engaging those impacted and collaborating with experts. The fight for racial justice has been long, and we are arriving woefully late. But the process established this summer has been a powerful step that can set the tone for how Maine legislates moving forward.

Rep. Daughtry is serving her fourth term in the Maine House and represents part of Brunswick. She can be reached at [email protected] or by phone at (207) 370-9871

Rep. Jay McCreight is serving her third term in the Maine House. She participated in the work of the Permanent Commission on the Status of Racial, Indigenous and Maine Tribal Populations and represents Harpswell, West Bath and the northeastern part of Brunswick.

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