Maine’s heavy-hitter Democrats gathered Tuesday to speak to students about the need for involvement in the political process. Congressman Mike Michaud, George Mitchell and Emily Cain — district representative for Orono — were just a few of the speakers at the event, which took place in the Wells Convention Center at the University of Maine.
Only four students showed up to the event. The speakers pretended not to notice.
Paul Davis, Penobscot County Democratic Committee Chair, hosted the event. He began telling the audience a story about a different convention, when he met a senator from Wisconsin. Upon telling the senator that he was from Maine, the senator remarked, “Oh, you have that crazy idiot governor.” Davis continued with LePage digs for several minutes and proceeded to define what a Democrat is before introducing Michaud.
Michaud told members of the audience that he came to speak about student loans. “There are some who look at education as a cost,” said Michaud. “I think of it as an investment.
Michaud said that he was met with difficulties to get colleagues to agree on education budgets.
Michaud moved on to other topics, such as research and development and renewable energy, and praised the University of Maine on its success in these areas.
“We have to do everything we can as a country to help veterans and their families,” said Michaud. He also wants every soldier in America to be covered head-to-toe in American-made gear and is pushing for a bill to give the Army a contract with New Balance for warfare footwear. Three of New Balance’s production factories are located in Maine.
Michaud closed his speech by telling students, “This is your future. Your future will depend on what the outcomes of this election will be.”
Janet Mills, former Attorney General of the State of Maine, spoke next. She began by commending students for their work in 2011 to defeat an anti-same-day voter registration bill. She went on to condemn Maine Secretary of State Charlie Summers.
“[Charlie Summers] must never become a United States senator in this country,” Mills said. “Remember it was he who wanted to take away your right to vote.”
Mills threw out some chilling statistics. According to her, one million students wouldn’t qualify for Federal Pell grants under the Romney-Ryan plan. Pell grants are one of the largest sources of funding for students in postsecondary education in the United States.
According to Mills, 14.1 percent of Maine people live below the poverty level. That number has increased under Paul Lepage.
Mills closed saying we have 42 days to put our state back on track.
George Mitchell, a former Maine senator, titan of state and national Democratic politics, and former Senate Majority Leader, took the podium.
“Why am I a democrat?” Mitchell asked, saying it is a hard question to answer. “My answer always is, it’s difficult to summarize in a few sentences what our country is founded on.”
“In America, no one should be guaranteed success, but everyone should have a chance to have it,” said Mitchell.
Mitchell touted the Democratic Party.
“Particularly in the last century, the Democratic Party has worked hard,” Mitchell said. For example, the Democratic Party opposed child labor laws. Mitchell said that everyone in the Republican Party opposed child labor laws as being communist. The same phenomenon happened during the proposals of Social Security and Medicare. But none of these programs are communist, said Mitchell; they’re just common sense.
Mitchell returned to the topic of same-day voter registration and bills to prevent voter fraud.
“I think it’s one of the most shameful episodes in American history,” said Mitchell. He believes we are inflicting far too much collateral damage on voters to make removal of fraudulent voters worth it.
Concerning educational funding, Mitchell believes that, “when everyone is lifted up, everyone does better.” It is for this reason that the Mitchell fund exists. Mitchell said that UMaine has the largest number of Mitchell scholarship recipients.
Mitchell believes that the Republican Party has abandoned its commitment to the environment. We have to be concerned about the environment because it affects us all.
“If Republicans are elected … it will be dangerous for the world in terms of the environment,” said Mitchell. “We have a long way to go in terms of leadership and caring for the environment.
Toby McGrath, State Director for Obama For America, spoke next. McGrath appealed to the University’s students.
“It’s intimidating to speak after Senator Mitchell,” McGrath said..“For you students here, you have a very clear decision on healthcare.”
Were Romney to be elected, he would repeal Obama care.
“The President has invested in renewable energy,” McGrath said. “Romney wants to subsidize the oil companies.”
Romney wants to give money to the wealthiest people and put the debt on students’ shoulders.
“You getting an education should not make you bankrupt,” McGrath said.
He continued, saying,“We can’t let the Republicans screw up the Democratic ticket.” He mentioned that $400,000 in attack ad funds is now sitting at media stations around the state. Karl Rove put these funds in place with the sole purpose of using them to thin the resources of Democratic campaigns.
“Have people in this room knocking on doors,” McGrath said the way to win the election. “We need a Mainer talking to a Mainer. We need students talking to other students.”
Leslie Beliveau, campus organizer for the “Yes on 1” campaign, spoke briefly about the importance of LGBT rights.
The event took an amusing turn when Davis called Nicole Brown, Penobscot Valley Organizer for the Maine People’s Alliance, to the podium. A few members of the crowd said that Brown wasn’t scheduled to speak.
“You’re not speaking, are you?” Davis said.
“I guess I am now,” replied Brown.
Brown said that the MPA hasn’t endorsed any candidate this year who doesn’t support Fair Share Economy. She then called on students to become actively involved in registering other students to vote.
Matt Dunlap, former Maine Secretary of State, spoke about how he came to be Secretary of State. He graduated in 1987 from UMaine, where he ran across a student who had fallen behind in loan payments and was forced out of the school at the end of the semester, just before she could take her final exams. Dunlap then petitioned to create an emergency scholarship for students in a similar position and worked his way up in politics from there.
Dunlap said he thought he was out of politics after the election of Governor Paul LePage. However, he continues to be active because he believes the atmosphere in Augusta has changed for the worse.
“I have never been more upset than when I saw, on official letterhead from the Secretary of State, a letter telling students to unregister to vote in Maine,” said Dunlap, referring to the attempt in 2011 by Charlie Summers to intimidate hundreds of college students into not voting.
Dunlap believes that if you are 18 years old or older, you have the right to vote. The law agrees with Dunlap.
Ryan Tipping-Spitz, candidate for Orono’s Maine House District 19, spoke briefly on what issues matter to him. He believes in affordable healthcare, clean water and air, and a fair economy.
Emily Cain, current House Representative for District 19 and a candidate for Senate District 30, was the final speaker for the event.
“We must work together. Talk to our friends, talk to our neighbors, say, ‘I am a Democrat because I believe that [Maine can do better,]’” Cain said. Cain asked for help to reduce economic anxiety.
Cain criticized the Maine Republican party for their actions.
“The amount of unprogress done in the past two years is frightening, but we can take it back,” Cain said.CORRECTION:
A previous version of this article stated campus organizer for Yes on 1 was Leslie Belmont, when her last name is Beliveau. This article also stated that same-day voter registration was fought in 2008, when in fact it was in 2011.