Opinion

In the face of challenges, Maine communities unite

I’ve often said that Maine feels like one large small town. From the coast to the forest, cities to small rural towns, we all share one incredibly important thing: our sense of community. That emphasis on community was particularly evident to me as I spent the better part of the July 4th week meeting with Maine people in Kennebec, Washington, Hancock, Knox, and Waldo Counties. Throughout the week, I was reminded that no matter our challenges – local, national, or even international –Maine people look out for neighbors and lift each other up in the face of obstacles.

Take, for example, Maine’s demographic struggles; as our population ages, we have more seniors who need assistance to remain in their homes, and fewer young people to participate in our workforce. Fortunately, there are organizations across our state working to address these challenges, including the Cohen Community Center in Hallowell, which helps seniors enjoy a comfortable and social environment, and High Hopes Clubhouse in Waterville, which works to help folks – young and old – with mental illnesses re-enter the workforce. As I met the dedicated staffs and the Maine people they serve, I was simply blown away by their dedication to improving the quality of life in their communities. This is exactly how Maine people respond to problems: by coming together, and creating a solution. We believe that no matter who you are, or how long you’ve been on this earth, or how many troubles you’ve overcome, you can make important contributions to your community.

But even as Maine communities respond to their own issues, it is clear that many local problems are firmly outside of local control. There’s no better example of this than the ongoing and escalating trade war with China. Earlier this year, the administration imposed tariffs on billions of dollars of Chinese goods, and in retaliation, China more than doubled tariffs on a number of American goods – including lobster, which is the economic engine of communities along Maine’s coast. Now, those who rely on lobsters to earn a livelihood – lobstermen, lobster dealers, lobster processors, and more – are beginning to feel the ripple effect. Since our trade laws allow the president to unilaterally impose tariffs on another country, communities must use their voices to highlight how the trade wars are affecting exports and jobs. Congress has a role to play as well – listening to our constituents, elevating their voices and holding the administration accountable to the workers whose jobs are threatened. I spent two days in Stonington doing just that, where I heard concerns from folks across the lobster industry about how this uncertainty could threaten the entire local economy, and I’ve seen similar concerns raised by Maine people on all sorts of local and national news coverage. Our lobstering community can’t fix the problem themselves, but they are coming together to fight, and Congress can and must stand with American workers by urging the administration to find a strategy that holds bad trade partners like China accountable without threatening Maine jobs.

I ended my week in Camden, discussing a challenge that affects not only Maine people but every American: election security. About 500 interested folks came out on a beautiful summer night; it takes a lot to get people on the coast of Maine to choose to spend a gorgeous evening inside, but this turnout showed me just how worried people are about Russia’s efforts – both past and current – to interfere with our elections. As a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, I’ve spent a lot of time working on getting to the bottom of Russian involvement in the 2016 elections, and while our investigation is still ongoing, there is one defense to future meddling that is clear: an educated and informed citizenry, who can identify misinformation attempts. This conversation, which took place at the Camden Opera House, gave me the opportunity to discuss my work and answer questions from Maine people about my experiences on the Intelligence Committee. Once again, I was overwhelmed by the community response – we don’t have the answers yet, but hundreds of Maine people are ready to confront our problems, and solve them together.

Whether in Camden, Stonington, or Hallowell, whether homegrown matter or an existential threat, Maine people respond to adversity in the same way: they come together, engage, and find ways to help each other. It’s an example of the idea that we are stronger united than we are divided – it is, after all, the ‘United’ States of America. This is who Maine people are, and I use their support for each other as an example each and every day as I try to find ways to bring my Senate colleagues on either side of the aisle together – because if Congress had a bit more of Maine’s spirit, I think we’d all be better off.

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