I am the daughter of Greek immigrants. Growing up, I worked in my parents’ seasonal restaurant all summer long so that I could afford to go to the University of Maine. My family, friends and, for that matter, most Mainers have the will to work hard for the betterment of their families.

That is why it was so shocking to me to hear two Maine lawmakers discussing immigrants and Maine’s workforce in the way they did.

In a work session in Augusta recently concerning welfare for noncitizens, Rep. Jennifer Parker said, “Mainers can only last at the backbreaking work for a certain amount of time.”

Excuse me? It is hard to tell from this quote whether Parker, a new Democratic lawmaker representing parts of South Berwick and North Berwick, is calling Mainers weak or lazy. Neither is true.

During my travels across Maine there is one thing that is clear, Mainers are some of the toughest, hardest-working people I know.

From our factories, forests and farms to our fisheries, hospitals and restaurants, anywhere you go in Maine you will find some of the most industrious and persevering people in the world.

In that same work session, Parker also suggested that crime would go up if we cut state welfare funding for noncitizens.

Apparently, Parker worries that these same new immigrants who work so much harder than Mainers are also holding us hostage and will commit property crimes if Maine taxpayers stop footing the bill on their welfare programs. Parker presents us with quite a conundrum, if this is true.

Parker’s colleague, Democratic Rep. Scott Hamann of South Portland, another misinformed legislator, even went as far as to suggest we “double down’ on the millions we spend on noncitizen welfare if it would bring in more workers.

This whole episode has the feel of insult and exploitation of entire groups of people.

For one, if Maine needs workers, we need workers. Growing a welfare program while refusing to institute some work requirements when able and possible, or volunteerism, will in no way grow our economy — it will shrink it by taking money from people who are working hard for a better life and filtering it through a wasteful bureaucracy.

It’s really hard to understand how we can make Maine a more attractive place to work when our own lawmakers say that increasing taxes and spending on those who work to pay for those who don’t might be the “silver bullet” (as Hamann put it) to Maine’s economic challenges.

If jobs are going unfilled, it stands to reason that either immigrants who can legally work would come in and fill them — no welfare required — or wages would rise to attract workers to fill the jobs. Neither of these require taxpayers to fund a welfare program at any level to attract jobs.

If Parker truly feels that not providing welfare for noncitizens would increase crime, it is reckless of her to push for us to bring more people in “for the benefits.”

If Hamann truly thinks Maine’s welfare benefits should be used to draw people to our state, he should find another line of work.

And if either of these representatives truly thinks that using exploitative language about immigrants and insulting the work ethic of generations of Mainers is the path to political success, I have news for them.

It is not.

The wealth extracted from the back-breaking work of millions of Mainers over generations paid for everything they have at their jobs in Augusta today. From the roads and buildings to their very paychecks. It’s time they recognize that.

Stop undermining the value of the labor of Maine workers. Stop exploiting the work of noncitizens. Stop insulting the work ethic of Maine people. And most of all, stop putting a faulty ideology ahead of Maine. Put Maine workers, Maine taxpayers and the Maine people first.

Demi Kouzounas is the chairwoman of the Maine Republican Party. She is also a dentist and small-businesswoman with nearly 30 employees at locations in Scarborough and Skowhegan.

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