It’s not uncommon for those from out-of-state to have their opinions about Maine shut down for the simple reason that they are “from away.” In the eyes of Mainers who are especially territorial, no matter how long your residency here has been, if you’re not born here, you will never know what you’re talking about when you speak on any aspect of Maine. But this mentality isn’t productive. It’s obstinate to pretend that Maine’s economy is made up of only multi-generational Mainers and that there is no way someone from out of state can positively contribute to the politics of our state. One of Maine’s most beloved governors, and now U.S. senator, Angus King (I-Maine) is not originally from Maine, yet he has made himself known through years of experience working and living in Maine—and Brunswick.
This topic is especially apparent now with Bowdoin student Andrew Kaleigh ’24 running for the Maine Legislature (not Congress). As acknowledged by Kaleigh himself, the fact that he is young and didn’t grow up in Maine are two major detractors from his campaign. For too many, there is an assumed lack of understanding and disconnect between Kaleigh and the residents of House District 100. But the two biggest issues he highlights, the opioid crisis and the Housing First model to address homelessness, are pressing issues that are not exclusive to those born and raised in Maine.
It does not take having generations of family in the state to recognize the severity of the opioid epidemic and its link with homelessness and to want to do something about it, as Kaleigh hopes to. It would be naive to think that only a politician born and raised in Maine could have sympathy for this issue. In fact, Maine native and former Gov. Paul LePage vetoed a bill that would have increased access to Narcan, stating it would only allow for more overdoses.
The opioid epidemic and homeless crisis are both very complex issues that are currently being addressed by lawmakers, if incompletely. The legislature has been pushing Housing First, as well as laws surrounding Narcan and overdose prevention. Recently, laws have been passed to increase access to methadone and push the FUSE collaborative, which creates additional Housing First programs. Organizations like Preble Street in Portland currently use the Housing First model independent of the legislature as well, but these efforts can be strengthened by legislative action.
Regardless of where they’re originally from, it’s especially important that people who live in the more affluent parts of the state, like Brunswick, are engaging in the search for solutions to stigmatized issues like substance abuse. This broader engagement is essential if changes are to be made to get at some of the causes of the opioid epidemic, like the prescribing of addictive painkillers and treatment option shortages. However, his opponent in the Democratic primary Dan Ankeles has made himself an institution in the district by being an at-large Brunswick town councilor, legislative aide, and soccer coach—forging connections and growing a reputation as a candidate.
It takes guts and commitment to run for a seat in the Maine Legislature. Regardless of the chances of being elected, having a young person “from away” work to bring attention to Maine’s salient crises by running for the Legislature is a welcome addition to Maine politics. When you are genuinely trying to make positive changes with care for the people of our state, being “from away” should not disqualify you from getting involved.