Mattawamkeag isn't famous, but it's the kind of town that exemplifies Maine: full of hard-working people and long-time residents who might disagree once in a while, but who all want to keep Maine the beautiful, livable place that it is. They don't care about party labels nearly as much as what their representatives can do to help make their lives better. And what I heard over and over at our busy town hall meeting on Thursday was that we need to create more jobs to bring young people back to rural areas. We need to keep Congress' hands off Social Security. We need to pay people a living wage again and stop shipping our jobs overseas with bad trade deals. I heard what I've been hearing throughout this walk: Washington isn't paying attention to rural America, and that neglect means a lot of families' way of life is disappearing. We don't have to let that happen.
We also don't have to let bad arguments about why that's happening go unchallenged. Talk radio hosts and certain politicians want you to believe rural areas should just give up. One radio personality up here said the other day that if rural Mainers don't like what's happened to their towns, they should move to North Dakota. Think about living in a small town and hearing that.
What is it about making people feel ashamed, making them feel like they've failed, telling them to leave their homes behind -- what is it about pouring salt in a wound that appeals to loudmouths so much? I still can't figure it out. What I've seen on my walk is that Mainers -- whether they're Republicans, Democrats, Greens or independents, whether they consider themselves conservative or progressive or anything else -- appreciate hard work, honesty and fair dealing. They appreciate a helping hand instead of a twist of the knife. They feel like they've been left hung out to dry by an economic and political system that doesn't appreciate them, and they want to know what's going to happen next.
I'm running for Senate, and I'm walking across Maine, to lift those voices up again. I grew up respecting peoples' hard work no matter where they lived or how they voted. Congress should make policy choices that maintain that respect. I've seen up close the hard changes that are happening around Maine: the mill closures in Millinocket and East Millinocket, the families hurt by National Starch & Chemical moving jobs to Central America, the loss of jobs at Lincoln Paper & Tissue due to foreign competition. The people who had those jobs are decent, honest, hardworking Mainers who still deserve to earn a good wage and help their families. We shouldn't leave them behind. We should listen to them.
That's what the Walk Across Maine is about. And so far, it's working.