ELLSWORTH — “Quite frankly, a year ago I don’t think people thought that someone who grew up working class, someone who grew up qualifying for free reduced lunch, or someone who is not in the political class could break through the way we have.”
Zak Ringelstein, 32, is the Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate. He is challenging incumbent Independent Angus King.
Ringelstein is running as a progressive candidate. His platform includes Medicare for all, investing in alternative energy, increasing living-wage jobs and curbing the effects of climate change.
He accepts no money from corporate donations or political action committees (PACs).
“The people of Maine need to know that I can’t be bought, that I haven’t taken a single penny from lobbyists,” Ringelstein said. “And because I am not bought I am able to tell you that we live in a country where we really could have these things: rural access to broadband internet, improved roads and bridges, Medicare for all. We could actually have those things, but we’re sold the idea that we can’t.”
Ringelstein grew up in Moultonborough, N.H.
“Everything happens at school or at the local church. I always thought of my family as much bigger than just my family,” Ringelstein says.
After attending Columbia University, Ringelstein worked as a public school teacher in Arizona.
“It seemed to me that teaching was a great way to get to know my country and be able to truly understand its character.”
Ringelstein eventually founded UClass, a business designed to connect teachers and students from around the world. Ringelstein was named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 list and spoke at the White House on early education policy. After selling the business, Ringelstein moved to Portland with his wife, Leah, and sons Zion and Jack and taught at Presumpscot Elementary School.
“After the last election, I felt like I had the opportunity, with my experience, to bust through the walls of what I consider a corrupt system,” Ringelstein says. “My whole life I’ve been fighting for justice. When I was a public school teacher and started my company, I started to see the real ways that working class people, people like my family and my wife’s family, were not represented.
“We’re not invited to the table. We’re on the chopping block and on the menu.”
Ringelstein is not the only young challenger to King this fall. Eric Brakey, a 30-year-old Republican state senator from Auburn, also is running.
Ringelstein is one of numerous progressive office-seekers across the country this year. After the recent New York primary victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ringelstein is confident his campaign will benefit from the same progressive wave.
“I think we’ll see with our race that no one wants the establishment in either party to continue what they’re doing,” Ringelstein said.
Ringelstein said he has received support from some regional and state Democratic groups. His opposition to King, who is an independent but caucuses with the Democratic Party, has met with some pushback from others.
“This particular race is unusual, in that there are basically two Democrats running,” said Alfred Judd, chairman of the Hancock County Democrats. “We’re not really taking a side with that, as it would be awkward to do so. We have our hands full with other candidates who are against the opposition party.”
Ringelstein gained some national notoriety for his actions. In June, he was arrested outside a detention camp in Texas. Ringelstein was attempting to deliver food, water, blankets, and toys to children being detained there. In July, he was noted for becoming a dues-paying member of the Democratic Socialists of America. Ringelstein says it is important to see that these values are not incongruous with the state he hopes to represent.
“I’m a truck driving, country music listening to, church-goer who is also a dues-paying Democratic Socialist, and I think that’s good for people to see.”