The Maine State House in Augusta is pictured on May 6, 2020. Credit: Natalie Williams / BDN

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Maine is the oldest state in the country, and, simply put, needs to attract more people, especially skilled workers, to live here and contribute to our economy.

That means providing education and employment opportunities for young Mainers to stay here and make lives for themselves and their families. It means welcoming home those people who were born here, spent time elsewhere, and decide to come back, bringing their experiences and their perspectives with them. It means welcoming folks from outside of the state, not just as equal members of our communities, but as potential leaders who can provide new and valuable ideas.

One of the most tired and counterproductive traditions here in the Pine Tree State is the notion that people “from away” can’t be real Mainers in the way that people born here are. That’s not the way life, or growth as a state, should be.

This “from away” argument flares up regularly in our politics, and it’s hot air that distracts from the real debates. Most recently, an irresponsible mailer from the Maine Democratic Party attacked Republican state Senate candidate Duncan Milne for spending 33 years away from Maine, where he grew up, and suggested that he “moved here from Virginia for political gain.”

That argument is a loser regardless, but it’s particularly bad because Milne is a retired Marine colonel whose military service took him not just outside Maine, but around the world.

The Maine Republican Party is now fundraising off the Democratic mailer misstep. That effort is more than a little cynical, though, given relentless Republican attempts to go after Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Sara Gideon for being from Rhode Island originally. The details of each situation are different, but the attackers in each case are trying to generate resentment toward candidates for being “from away.” Maine political discourse needs to move past that.

In a statement distributed by the Senate Republican Campaign, Milne may have been focusing more on the attack against him and the message it sends to military families, but he ultimately made a good case for ditching this type of argument across the board.

“We need to reject these kinds of residency purity tests in favor of encouraging our best and brightest to move to Maine,” Milne said. He could not be more on target there.

The Maine and U.S. constitution, not political parties, set the standards for who is eligible to serve in elected office.

The Maine constitution lays out the residency requirements for members of the Maine House of Representatives and Maine Senate. Members must have been a Maine resident for one year, and been a resident in the district they seek to represent for at least the three months leading up to the election. They must have been a U.S. citizen for five years.

The U.S. Constitution requires that a U.S. senator or a member of the U.S. House of Representatives live in the state they represent (for the House, members are not actually required to live in the specific district they represent). A senator must have been a U.S. citizen for nine years, and for House members the citizenship requirement is seven years.

Let’s retire the faulty political and cultural argument about people coming to Maine from away, not just against retired servicemembers who’ve lived outside of Maine, but against anyone who wants to move here and be part of the state’s future. We can evaluate candidates’ qualifications and experience without falling into a trap of thinking that there is only one way to be a real Mainer.