The part of Maine where I live — the Katahdin region — has struggled in recent years. We’re good, hardworking people and there are signs of hope because we don’t give up, but we still have a lot of empty storefronts and homes.
The Great Northern Paper mill — once a source of good work, good wages, community pride and my own career — is empty and rusting. Young people are moving out of town in search of opportunity, and older folks who lost their jobs are worried about losing their homes.
I have been honored to serve my neighbors and friends in these communities in the Maine Legislature on and off since 1997. In all those years, as things got harder here, I think it was the feeling of being forgotten or left behind that has been toughest on people. Without much going on by way of new jobs and opportunity and feeling left behind, people go through a lot of emotions.
But things have not gotten better in the Katahdin region or rural Maine over the past seven and a half years. When you look at the numbers, Maine is behind New England and the country when it comes to jobs, incomes and economic growth. And rural Maine has been hit the hardest.
Over my 14 years as a legislator, I have worked closely with almost every one of the 20-plus people running for governor this year. The best of the lot is Democrat Adam Cote.
First and foremost, Cote is a Mainer who grew up in Sanford, which also has grappled with the loss of mill jobs and what comes next. Second, Cote is a leader. He served his country with courage and led Maine men and women during three different combat tours in Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan. He doesn’t mention it much, but he narrowly survived a suicide bombing in the chow hall in Mosul, Iraq, on Dec. 21, 2004, an attack that took the lives of two brave Maine soldiers.
The people who served under Cote in the Maine Army National Guard, regardless of their politics, speak of him and his leadership with great respect. That kind of service still counts for me and the people I represent. He has also led and worked with energy businesses across Maine, which is important because energy and reducing energy costs is one of the biggest issues our next governor needs to understand.
All of that wouldn’t matter if it weren’t for the last reason I believe Cote is the new leader Maine needs: He gets that it is about good jobs, and he has shown he really cares by spending a lot of time in northern and rural Maine. In fact, Cote is on his second trip visiting and listening to regular people in Maine’s 16 counties. He’s been at this campaign less than 10 months, and he’s already spent more time and listened to more people across Maine, especially rural Maine, than some people who have been around 10 years or more.
Cote is what we in rural Maine call a hard worker, and I respect that.
He is getting ready to roll out great ideas based on his experience and what he has learned from listening to Maine people. I won’t try to steal his thunder on those, but I am telling you he has good ideas on how to get jobs growing in rural Maine, how to make it easier to get and pay for new skills you need to get a good job, how to invest in the infrastructure and high-speed broadband rural Maine needs to attract jobs and businesses, and how to listen, partner and promote new businesses and jobs where Maine has competitive opportunities. He has been talking to me, for example, about cross-laminated timber as a great opportunity for over a year now, and we just saw an announcement about 100 or so jobs in that field coming to Millinocket.
Cote is a good, smart, young guy who comes from a family of teachers and welders. He has the leadership skills, energy and work ethic to be a very good governor for Maine. He is driven and focused on how we grow and attract good jobs and build an economy that works for all of us, in every part of Maine. I believe he will help us do it.
Stephen S. Stanley, a Democrat, represents District 143 in the Maine House. He is a former Great Northern Paper worker and co-chair of the Cote for Maine Campaign Advisory Committee.
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