Though Secretary of State Matt Dunlap says there are a few loose ends to wrap up (including two recounts), the state election is pretty much a wrap. Town clerks and their steadfast crews, the hard-working heroes of the election, have breathed a sigh of relief. It’s over.
So, what’s new in the Maine Legislature? On the Senate side, Democrats gained a seat and now have a 22-13 majority. It does not quite get them to the two-thirds majority of 25 seats that enables a party to do absolutely everything, including those things that need a two-thirds vote, without any minority party votes, but it’s still big. It was the House side where the news was made.
House Democrats held 87 seats in the 129th Legislature. In the impending 130th, they have 80. Five seats in the 129th were held by independents, one by a Common Sense independent and two were vacant. Republicans jumped from 56 to 67 seats. Just four seats are now in the hands of legislators who are not members of the majority parties.
There are five legislative leaders in each chamber: the presiding officers (Senate president and speaker of the House) and two leaders for each party. On the Senate end, of the five leaders just one is a woman and only one is from rural Maine. In the House, three of the five leaders are women and three are from rural Maine.
What do we mean by rural? Well, eight of Maine’s 16 counties are small-ish and clustered in the southern part of the state. The other eight are large and cover a good two-thirds of the north, east and west. It looks like the Senate skews male and urban, the House female and rural. What does this mean? Maybe nothing, or maybe it suggests that the House is the more egalitarian body.
Then there is the age demographic. In 2018, the median age in Maine was 44.6 years. The average age of a member of the House in 2015 was 54 years. In the Senate, it was 61. This year, the House majority has nominated Rep. Ryan Fecteau, a 28-year-old, to be House speaker. Assuming his election (because Democrats hold the majority) when the Legislature convenes in early December, he will be the youngest speaker in the United States.
Friends and neighbors, this is not a bad thing. The leaders of our country and our state are old-ish. OK, they are old. In Congress, all three Democratic leaders have passed the threshold of 80. 80! What do they know of the trials and travails of the young? All the new-fangled technology we were so proud to master (email, Facebook) is now becoming passe.
The alleged disinterest of the next generations in politics and governance has less to do with antisocial inclination and a lot more with a complete misalignment of the goals of those in their 80s with those in their 20s and 30s.
At some point the young will have to step up and take over running the country. This is as good a time as any to let them get started. Not help them. Not encourage them. Just step out of the way and let them take hold. Look at the reaction Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the “squad” got. Republicans did their best to marginalize them. Even the Democratic establishment gave AOC a frosty reception. But this is a woman who is not about to stand down.
She is a fearless and articulate 29-year-old, decades younger than the average member of Congress. Her three colleagues in “the squad,” who have been singularly abused by President Donald Trump, range from 37 to 45 years old, adults by any definition but considerably younger than the average member of Congress. They are far more relatable to the truly young than the elders of the House or Senate. All four won re-election with comfortable margins.
The question comes up of “us” or “them.” Soon the leaders of our major institutions will be gone. The “us” of the establishment must give way to the next generation. It is time to find successors to the entrenched and put them in office. It will be different, and yes, it will be a little scary for we elders to hand the reins to people younger than our kids. But it will be exciting, and it is time.
The Ryan Fecteaus of the country will propose plans for our future that will unsettle us. So be it. It is their world, not ours anymore. The best we seniors can do is weigh in when we are asked and zip it when we are not. The great upheaval of the Trump administration must be replaced not with business as usual but with an ideology for the future.
Jill Goldthwait worked for 25 years as a registered nurse at Mount Desert Island Hospital. She has served as a Bar Harbor town councilor and as an independent state senator from Hancock County.