WINTER HARBOR — Having served as the Senate majority leader, negotiated peace in Northern Ireland and the Middle East and investigated steroid use in baseball, George Mitchell has done it all. And he’s still at it.
Mitchell, a former U.S. senator from Maine, spoke in front of hundreds of guests Tuesday at the Schoodic Institute’s Rockefeller Hall. He covered a variety of topics ranging from Acadia National Park’s Schoodic campus to the state of modern America.
Mitchell, who owns a home in Mount Desert, began on a lighthearted note. He talked about his home in Mount Desert and the days he once spent sailing near Schoodic Point. He talked about the fond time he had traveling Maine as a senator. He even talked about his first election campaign in 1982, in which he trailed by 36 points in the polls before coming back to defeat Republican David Emery.
“Life is about resilience, but it’s also about the people you meet,” Mitchell said. “We often travel in fixed routes and never get to see a great deal of what’s out there. As a senator, I got a chance to get away from that by visiting every high school and every town in Maine.
“When people ask me what I miss about the Senate, that’s what I really miss the most.”
Yet leaving the Senate hasn’t stopped Mitchell’s resolve to speak out. Climate change, Mitchell said, is and will continue to be one of the most pressing issues facing society. An example he included was the Gulf of Maine, which a 2015 Portland Press-Herald series revealed to be warming faster than any other body of water in the Western Hemisphere since 2004.
“We now find ourselves back at the starting gate because so many people insist there is no such thing as climate change,” Mitchell said. “These deniers of science include, sadly, the President of the United States, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and many members of Congress.”
Another significant subject included innovation and trade. Mitchell lamented the fact that a majority of Americans now believe that the job losses the nation has experienced in recent years have resulted from trade agreements. The reality of job loss, he added, has been innovation.
Mitchell gave the example of the stage coach industry, which once was one of the state’s most important employers. Although that industry has since gone by the wayside with the invention of the automobile, few in Maine would seriously argue the state is worse off as a result.
“Neither we nor any other society have figured out the way to replace the millions of middle-class, middle-income jobs that once were the standard and the staple of our society,” Mitchell said. “However, shutting ourselves off to trade deals and new opportunities has proven not to be the answer.”
Creating those opportunities, Mitchell said, will be the cornerstone for America’s future. Only through expanding rather than shrinking our horizons does he believe that will be possible.
“Our goal should be a society that encourages striving, celebrates success, is conducive to innovation and enables all of us to benefit from the talent of every other American,” Mitchell said. “That is our challenge, and we must make it our destiny.”