As all state lawmakers are certainly aware, Maine is the nation’s oldest state — it’s a fact that plays a role in nearly every discussion at the State House, from housing and health care to education and workforce development.

Despite all the attention, however, the Legislature has had little success reversing this demographic decline.

Maybe they haven’t been hearing from the right people.

While Maine’s median age is around 44, the average age in the Legislature is much older — in 2015, it was 55 in the House and 57 in the Senate. At the time, more than 70% of lawmakers were baby boomers or older.

So while legislators may have the best of intentions, they may not fully understand what younger Mainers want out of life in Maine, and what challenges they face in making it a reality.

And even though lawmakers provide opportunities for residents to weigh in on issues, those proceedings typically are dominated by lobbyists, former legislators and others with experience at the State House.

As a result, the views of younger Mainers are not always well represented as policy is developed and brought up for the vote.

A bill now under consideration could change that. L.D. 1497, from Rep. Charlotte Warren, D-Hallowell, would create the Maine Youth Impact Commission, an independent panel of 15 Mainers between the ages of 15 and 30 who would help inform and advise policymakers on issues affecting youth in the state. Appointed, respectively, by the governor, speaker of the House and Senate president, the members would be “geographically, politically, racially and economically diverse.”

The commission’s work could be an invaluable resource for legislators and state departments, and could build on the work already underway, including through the Governor’s Children Cabinet, the state’s student cabinet and Maine Climate Council, all of which contend with youth issues and solicit input from young Mainers.

To its credit, the Legislature, and the voters who put them there, have been open to young leaders. A number of recent legislative leaders on both sides of the aisle have been in their 20s, including Ryan Fecteau, the youngest speaker of the House in the country.

But it takes a special kind of young person in just the right kind of circumstances to get to that position. As a result, too many Mainers are left out of the conversation altogether, and the process loses valuable voices.

Chloe Maxmin, a 28-year-old Nobleboro Democrat who did her part to lower the Legislature’s average age last year when she defeated Republican leader Dana Dow, said it can be hard for young people to navigate the political system. If they are left out, she said in testimony supporting the commission, then legislators aren’t making informed decisions.

Maxmin is right. Young people won’t stay here, nor will they move here, if Maine doesn’t have the opportunities and amenities they desire — and policymakers won’t know what young people want unless they are given a chance to influence policy.

The Youth Impact Commission would make sure more young Mainers had that chance. It would connect them directly to the highest reaches of state government.

If Maine is going to turn around its demographic decline, then nothing less should do.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.