How a Climate-Justice Champion Won Office in Rural, Working-Class Maine

If you think the phrase “Green New Deal” is poisonous to Democrats in Republican districts, speak to Chloe Maxmin of Maine. In November, she ousted GOP Senate minority leader Dana Dow with 51 percent of the vote in rural District 13 of the working class.

Two years earlier, when Maxmin first ran for office, she won a seat in Maine’s lower chamber from her deep red house district and then passed a Green New Deal bill in Maine with historic confirmation from the state’s AFL CIO. The version passed was greatly scaled back, but a new conversation began on a just transition for Maine workers that continues to influence statewide climate policies under Democratic Governor Janet Mills. Not bad for a 20 year old rookie lawmaker.

Maxmin, 28, lives a short walk from the Nobleboro farm where she grew up. After graduating from Harvard in 2015, after co-founding the highly competitive campaign to divest fossil fuels on campus, she moved home and immersed herself in politics. The hallmark of their election campaigns was a highly personalized approach with a deep focus on community and real, face-to-face conversations with voters of all kinds, regardless of where they came from politically. It’s a type of campaign as described in a 2018 article for The nation, based on the organization of social movements – a model she believes can help democrats reclaim rural working class communities. And this approach seems to be all the more important after the 2020 elections, the less peaceful change of power in January and the ongoing democratic crisis in this country.

How a Climate-Justice Champion Won Office in Rural, Working-Class Maine 1

(Courtesy Chloe Maxmin)

At the beginning of the legislature in January, Maxmin started with an ambitious proposal for an amendment to the Maine constitution that guarantees the right to clean air, water and a healthy environment. However, it does not focus closely on climate and environmental policy. She represents a county where around 20 percent of children live in poverty and is advancing laws on alternative sentencing programs, community drug abuse recovery centers, transportation for the elderly, and open primaries.

Maxmin and I spoke twice in December and followed the first week of February. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

– As Stephenson

W.en S.Tephenson: Bipartisanism has become a bad joke at the national level, but in your campaigns you have deliberately chosen a different tone than the kind of partiality we see and hear so often these days. They seem to be less confrontational, more positive and more looking for common ground. Did you win like that? I mean, how did A 28-year-old progressive climate activist and Green New Deal champion ousted the seated GOP minority leader?


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