FARMINGDALE — Eighth grader Cole Lockhart raised his hand every time, eagerly waving an index card in the air as U.S. Rep Mike Michaud called on students to ask questions.
Lockhart had already had the opportunity to pose a question to U.S. Sen Angus King, I-Maine, when he talked with Hall-Dale Middle School students in a videoconference session in October. But on Tuesday, Lockhart was seated at the back of the Hall-Dale auditorium, many rows away from Michaud, D-2nd District.
Finally, Michaud pointed to Lockhart for the last question: What would the congressman change about his job, if he could?
“One of the problems I see is I just don’t have all the time to do all the things I’d love to do,” Michaud said.
Michaud’s work in Congress, and especially the need to balance it with a run for governor, sets him apart from most people, but Lockhart could relate to his complaint.
“I liked that answer because I wish I could have more hours in the day to do what I want,” Lockhart said afterward.
Michaud’s visit to Hall-Dale on Tuesday was one of a series of appearances by public figures arranged by middle school social studies teacher Amelia Clukey, who also set up the Skype session with King and a visit from Gov. Paul LePage last year.
Clukey said many middle school students would probably just repeat their parents’ thoughts about politics and government, but in a few years it’ll be time for them to start making their own decisions, so she wants to get them thinking now.
Whoever wins the gubernatorial election in November — Michaud, Lepage or independent Eliot Cutler — will be governor when today’s eighth graders graduate from high school.
“This is someone who could directly impact their lives on a bigger scale,” Clukey said.
In preparation for Tuesday, Clukey had students explore Michaud’s congressional and campaign websites, talk with their parents and brainstorm questions. Clukey said they came up with 80 to 100 questions, which were winnowed to avoid repetition, and students got to choose one if they wanted to ask something.
Students on Tuesday asked about Michaud’s priorities in Congress, why he decided to run for governor, job creation efforts and health care.
Michaud sometimes strayed into topics that probably went over the heads of most of the students, like the revenue sharing money that the state pays to municipalities out of tax revenues.
But he also talked about priorities that made more sense and seemed more immediately relevant to middle schoolers, especially in response to several questions the students asked about education.
Michaud said if he becomes governor, he’ll scrap the A-F report cards for schools rolled out by the Department of Education last spring and also look into increasing the state’s share of education funding. He said he’s talking with people in higher education about how to make college more affordable and that he also wants to focus on the other end of the educational spectrum.
“As a state we’ve got to focus a lot on pre-k and early childhood (education),” Michaud said. “The more you can invest in education up front from birth on, that will actually save a lot more money in the end.”
Michaud said his favorite part about being an elected official is getting the chance to meet with people and experience new things. He talked about visiting a Microsoft model home in Washington state where the kitchen counters display recipes and a voice reads the steps aloud for a cook to follow along.
“It’s a learning experience, and that’s what I really love about this job, you’re able to learn a lot of different things from a lot of different people, not only here in Maine but also around the country and around the world,” Michaud said.
He ended with an encouraging message for students, recalling the doubts he once encountered about his electoral prospects as a millworker from northern Maine with no college education.
“Regardless of who you are, how much money you have or don’t have, where you live or what you do in your life,” he said. “If you really want to do something, go after it.”