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National political party conventions are, as BDN columnist Matthew Gagnon wrote this week, largely meaningless affairs. Party faithful may be energized by the speeches and spectacle, but most of America yawns at the predictability and pomp.
So, it was a bit of an energizing surprise that Maine, for half a minute, was a star of the Democratic National Convention on Tuesday night.
Forced by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic to remake their conventions, the Democratic and Republican national committees have necessarily shed packed arenas for a virtual format. On Tuesday, the Democrats’ normally boring pledging of delegates became a video showcase of America. Democrats from 57 states and territories talked up their states and announced their delegate count, usually split between Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden, with Biden earning the majority.
State Rep. Craig Hickman of Winthrop was Maine’s featured delegate.
“My American dream: I’m living it,” Hickman said before pledging 22 delegates to Biden and nine to Sanders. “A 25-acre organic farm on a lake, a roadside farm stand and a bed and breakfast.”
“My husband and I aren’t corporate tycoons. We just want to make an honest living and feed our community,” he added in the 30-second video.
It didn’t take long for the accolades for Hickman and Maine to roll in.
“I don’t know his name, but OKAY the gay black farmer from Maine stole the whole show and we love to see it,” author and lawyer Meena Harris tweeted. Harris is the niece of Democratic vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris.
“Are you aware of how majestic this country is? Have you ever fully comprehended the vast diversity of architecture, geology, and fashion choices this great nation holds? If not, I suggest you watch the roll call from beginning to end,” Christina Cauterucci wrote for Slate.
“You’ve got Maine state Rep. Craig Hickman, a Black gay man who owns a farm and bed-and-breakfast, bragging about his life,” she wrote. “‘My American dream? I’m living it!’” he exclaimed. You sure are, Rep. Hickman! And I am jealous.”
“Like [singer] Maggie Rogers’ appearance from the Scarborough coast the night before, Hickman’s appearance generated a lot of (correct) online takes about how idyllic Maine is in the summer,” the BDN politics team wrote.
In fact, the convention spawned a (potential) new word. “Mainefreude: The German word for wanting to be in Maine literally every time it is mentioned,” tweeted Nathaniel Rakich, elections analyst at FiveThirtyEight, a website know for its political, economic and sports data analysis.
This reminds us of the famous E.B. White quote: “I would really rather feel bad in Maine than feel good anywhere else.”
Beyond reminding people across the country that Maine is more than lobster and lighthouses and idyllic in the summer, Hickman’s appearance sent a more valuable message: Maine is increasingly a place of diversity and acceptance.
As Maine, like many other rural states, struggles to find and keep thousands of workers, entrepreneurs and business owners to sustain its economy, the Pine Tree State must continue to welcome people from diverse backgrounds. There, of course, is work to be done, as made clear by the work of the Permanent Commission on the Status of Racial, Indigenous and Maine Tribal Populations.
Having a gay, Black farmer share his enthusiasm for living his American dream in Maine is an endorsement that should echo long after the political campaigns have ended.