Let me be clear: The assertion by Governor Paul LePage that Maine is “Open for business” and our long-held motto “The way life should be” are completely and hopelessly incompatible.
And while that is in part due to circumstances like being the northeasternmost state in the union; having basically one major road to navigate the state; possessing a pretty small population compared to the size of our Maine; and not having a ton of super-exploitable resources, I think the key reason is something else.
A lack of diversity.
No, not simply racial diversity, though some of that would help.
Sure, the racial homogeneity of the state has hardly budged in the dozen or so years I’ve lived here; Maine remains one of the two whitest states and has been for a very long time. It also isn’t a place that seems to be exploding with religious diversity—if there is any diversity of note at all, it is between the Christians who go to church and the largely non-religious Christians.
But there are other problems of homogeneity that plague us, and are perhaps even more destructive to our present and corrosive to our future. We are an aging state, for one thing. The young leave to make their way in life, and often they never come back. And when they do, they are usually old (more on that in a moment).
We are also a state where there are a ton of have-nots and a very small number of haves. Too many people here work hard at multiple jobs just so that they can still fail to make ends meet, and they are blessed with a governor who, based on recent statements, seems to erroneously believe that nearly half of Maine’s able-bodied, working-age adults aren’t working and don’t want to. The truth is we are filled overwhelmingly with hardworking folks who are either dirt-poor, working-poor, or one-paycheck-away-from-poor.
But even worse, we are a state that clings to the notion that, despite all those troubling characteristics, we shouldn’t change. In my experience, talk of changing the Maine’s character or direction is typically met with, “No, the way Maine is now is what makes it worth living in.” So many people I know who have told me how they moved away when they were relatively young and then come back her to live out their retirements.
They don’t want to try to earn their livings here, but they want to settle back here.
Maine seems to be a place for vacationers and retirees to enjoy, and for the vast majority of the residents to endure. And yet so many of those who live here and struggle also buy into the idea that we shouldn’t change.
Lumber, lobsters, blueberries, and tourist money aren’t going to cut it.
Only about a hundred miles separate Portland and Boston—a place known for its prestigious academic and research institutions and respected high-tech, healthcare, and pharmaceutical/biotech markets. We have an Amtrak line that can get people between those two points in a couple hours. We have our own success stories in the form of homegrown companies like Idexx and Jackson Labs. As Boston becomes a place people can less and less afford, why can’t we be a satellite that emulates at least some of that research and high-tech success?
There is no reason.
Unless we continue to stubbornly cling to the idea that Maine, as it is right now, is the way life should be. If we continue on this path of homogeneity and continued sameness, we might as well be like the Amish, holding to a cherished past and rejecting technological and economic progress.
I’m pretty sure that won’t keep us open for business.
Contact Shay Stewart-Bouley atblackgirlinmaine@gmailcom.