The youth vote is a valuable vote to have and one that all politicians should strive to receive. We are your future voting base, the next generation to either believe in the political system or continue a trend of government distrust. Gov. Mills’ leadership could determine this fate. As young voters, we demand the same amount of respect and representation as other constituencies in Maine.
Gov. Mills has not represented young people fully and, as a result, she isn’t guaranteed the youth vote this November. More often than not, Mills’ actions excluded young people from policies, even when young people bring solutions to table.
Failing to close Long Creek Youth Development Center, or shore up young Mainers’ energy future, along with many other examples, leaves young people feeling unsupported and disillusioned. Important steps forward, such as the child tax credit, relief checks and tuition-free two-year college, are welcome exceptions to the rule.
Young people need not just a few but all policies designed with them in mind. Having a voice in policymaking is critical to designing the future and to the success of Maine’s economy and democracy. Making space for young people in our political system is guaranteed to yield a higher level of political engagement, innovation and the development of new projects, research methods and programs that will make Maine a state that young people move to, not move out of.
Maine experiences a high rate of “brain drain.” This loss of highly educated young people has become a huge factor in the state’s economic stagnation and declining social capital. According to the Maine Population Outlook: “If the young working-age population (20-39) is considered, this group will decline by 4.5% from 2018 to 2028.”
The sad truth is that if young people want specific educational training, well-paying entry-level jobs or a salary with a livable wage, many decide to move out of the state because of minimal access to these opportunities. At Maine Youth Power, we hear these themes and lived experiences come up regularly when speaking with young people in our base. Young people are grappling with these tough choices; to leave or stay in the place we call home.
While Maine is on the higher end of minimum wages nationwide, the reality is that it is still not enough to sustainably support any single worker. Our state’s housing crisis and nonexistent public transit system force young people to pay more than they should to live in Maine, leaving many with no choice but to leave the state.
Coupled with unlivable conditions, if young people want to stay and increase their voice in Maine’s political system by running for public office, their ability to do so is impacted by the low compensation that Maine legislators receive. Young people cannot entertain the idea of running for such a position because they cannot afford to do so. The average age in Maine is around 45 years old, while the average legislator is over 10 years older (55 years old in the House, and 57 in the Senate, according to a study done in 2015). In Maine, if we can’t buy or rent a house, and can’t choose to represent ourselves or be represented by someone who shares our experiences, then why would we stay?
It is in Maine’s best economic interest to change these dynamics in order to build a future for Maine that includes the next generation. Gov. Mills, by championing our issues, will see an increase in our vote.
We know that young people are motivated, civically minded and engaged with the community. They represent the most mobilized group of climate activists and are leaders in the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as countless social movements for a better future. Young people have the capacity to reimagine the system that does not work anymore. We place a high value on innovation and creativity which is what Maine needs to build a more sustainable, equitable and affordable state.

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