After visiting government professor Chris Potholm’s Maine Politics class last month, Maine Governor Paul LePage reciprocated by asking the students to lunch with him at the governor’s mansion in Augusta.
LePage also gave the class an assignment. “He asked the students to come with their ideas on how to keep bright, educated young people in Maine,” Potholm said.
The lunch invitation, Potholm said, was spontaneous, following a pleasant discussion with the class. “He seemed genuinely interested in their comments, whether they were positive or negative,” Potholm said.
Barbara Harvey, a circulation and government documents assistant in Bowdoin’s library, set up the campus visit and helped arrange the lunch. Harvey is a member of the Friends of the Blaine House Committee.
On Dec. 11, the last day of classes, the students traveled to Augusta in three big, white vans, parking in the Blaine House roundabout with clear views of the state capitol. The Blaine House was decorated with holiday ornaments, Christmas trees and lights. Christmas cookies were also ubiquitous, and LePage encouraged the students to take some home.
After pointing out some historical artifacts, LePage got down to business. He took a seat in a circle of chairs around a lunch buffet, and leaned in to get closer to his guests. “This is critical,” he said. “The single largest problem facing our state is that we have more people dying than being born. We need to find ways to keep you young people here and raise your families here. To take care of old duffers like me!”
Maine is the oldest state in the country, he continued, with a median age creeping up well over 40. He stressed again the importance of attracting and keeping energetic young people in Maine to fill the ranks of professionals and entrepreneurs.
Many students raised their hands to offer their thoughts. LePage contributed anecdotes or information to round out a student’s point, or to stress the problems he saw in Maine.
Greg Faucher ’16, from Madawaska, Maine, first suggested that companies do more outreach to college students to advertise their internships and apprenticeships. They could even start reaching out to younger students. “We never had career days in grade school or high school,” he said. “If you wanted to work in Maine, you worked in the mill. I didn’t want to work in the mill so I came to Bowdoin.”
This set LePage off on a reminiscence about the time he worked in a mill, at age 16, a job he left after four days when he realized how repetitive and dull it was.
Another student said Maine should more aggressively market itself not just as a vacation destination, but as a place to live out a lifelong vacation. This might attract some of the legions of workers who have the freedom to work from home as long as they have a good Internet connection.
LePage responded by noting that for the most part Maine has a strong fiber-optic system, but that some parts of the state still need better connectivity. Then he told a story about a 23- or 24-year-old woman in Maine who had started a successful Internet-based business selling imported yarn from India.
Zach Morrison ’14 suggested that more graduate schools, such as law or business schools, set up programs similar to Maine Track, a partnership between Maine Medical Center and Tufts University that provides affordable training to students and encourages them to set up practice in Maine. “I like that one,” LePage said, of Morrison’s idea. “That gives me a couple of ideas.”
LePage later told a Bangor Daily News reporter covering the event that he supported programs such as Maine Track because they strengthen young people’s connection to the state.
After the discussion, LePage thanked the Bowdoin students and again extended his hospitality. “I would like to see every one of you stay here,” he said.