Mainers, rightly, have a strong pride in their home state. We appreciate that.
But, as a state where deaths outnumber births, leaving immigration as the only path to population growth and economic prosperity, the Pine Tree State and its residents need to be welcoming of new people and new ideas.
The best way to show this acceptance is to drop the phrase “from away” from our lexicon and to bury the notion that being born in Maine is somehow more valuable or desirable than choosing to move here.
“The common Maine saying ‘from away’ speaks to a sense of pride in our state but also to an unnecessary and damaging division, implying that those from elsewhere can never truly be a part of our state’s social fabric and economy,” the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and the Maine Development Foundation said in a 2016 report.
“The simple truth is that we need more people contributing to our economy to their maximum potential, regardless of when or how they got here or where they came from,” the report said.
It is a simple truth, but, sadly, one that bears frequent repeating. In fact, we’re a bit dismayed that we’re writing about this topic for the second time in a month.
We’re doing so because the “from away” attitude has permeated the state’s most-watched campaign — the U.S. Senate race between Sen. Susan Collins and Democratic House Speaker Sara Gideon. Independents Lisa Savage and Max Linn are also seeking the Senate seat.
The Maine Republican Party has attacked Gideon because she is not originally from Maine and lives in Freeport, a high-income southern Maine community. The party posted a video highlighting the fact that Gideon grew up in Rhode Island. She came to Maine in 2004 with her husband, who grew up in Portland, and has served on the Freeport Town Council and in the Maine Legislature.
Collins has recently touted her Maine roots, including a campaign ad about her Aroostook County upbringing, while pointing out that Gideon has “been in Maine for about 15 years and lives in Freeport.”
“That’s a big difference in our knowledge of the state,” Collins told Politico.
Asked about her comments, Collins told the Bangor Daily News she did not intend for her comments to be interpreted negatively toward Mainers from away, saying Maine should welcome more people, especially in northern areas losing population.
The Maine Democratic Party has also used the “from away” idea to criticize a candidate. It sent a mailer to voters in state Senate District 11 suggesting that Republican candidate Duncan Milne, a retired Marine Corps colonel who grew up in Maine, “moved here from Virginia for political gain.” He returned to Maine after 33 years of military service and work with veterans.
Although Jim Melcher, a political scientist at the University of Maine at Farmington, says where a candidate was born doesn’t make much difference for most voters, the parties believe it matters or else they wouldn’t continually trot out this tired trope.
People like Milne and Gideon, and many other Maine leaders, who have returned to or moved to Maine and decided to serve their neighbors, communities and state, should be appreciated, not criticized.
“We need to reject these kinds of residency purity tests in favor of encouraging our best and brightest to move to Maine,” Milne said recently.
He is absolutely right.