Speaker of the Maine House and Democratic Senate candidate for Maine Sara Gideon paid a visit to Waterville on Oct. 26 for an event specifically geared toward Colby students.
The event, hosted by the Colby Democrats, could not be held on campus because of COVID-19 restrictions on visitors but took place instead at Head of the Falls, a short walk from the Alfond Commons in downtown Waterville.
The event featured student band “Basement Picnic” and speeches by Lutie Brown `22, Colby Democrats co-president, Maine College Democrats president, and chair of ColbyVotes, Jake Nash `21, local engagement chair for Colby Democrats and head of ColbyVotes’ data team, Carolyn Jones `19, Gideon’s special assistant or “body woman,” Gideon herself, and Julia Panepinto, Waterville organizer for the campaign.
Brown and Nash called students to action to join Colby Democrats’ weekly phone banking and shared that ColbyVotes has registered 700 students in Maine. They said that Maine is ranked highly for the power of the youth vote, so students should be sure to vote and to vote safely.
Indeed, the 2020 Youth Electoral Significance Index (YESI), put out by Tufts University’s Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, found that among all the Senate races in the country, the significance of the youth vote is the second highest in Maine. This is due to Maine’s youth turning out at the highest rate in the past two elections compared to other states.
Brown shared her personal experience of having her vote challenged in 2018 along with 150 other Colby students, emphasizing that the students in the crowd do have the right to vote in Maine. She also listed the Democratic candidates up and down the ballot that Colby Democrats hope students will vote for.
Jones then introduced Gideon, who began her speech by commending students on how they’ve maintained the safety of Colby’s campus during the pandemic.
Gideon outlined her experience in government, which began as a town councilor in Freeport, then as a state representative, and then as Speaker of the Maine House for the past four years.
Gideon shared that while she was state representative and speaker, Paul LePage was governor.
“I don’t know if any of you lived in the city of Waterville back when Paul LePage was mayor here,” she said, “but let me tell you: he was an incredibly divisive person who didn’t believe in government and who wanted to divide us. [He was] someone who called himself Trump before Trump.”
Gideon said that what she learned from working while LePage was in office was to seek out those who could help her accomplish what she needed and to stand up to people who are doing wrong.
“When there is someone who is doing something that is not right, when there is someone who is trying to pit people against each other, or to paint people who are poor or immigrants as people who are your enemies, you stand up and you say ‘absolutely not, that is not who we are, we are one people we are one nation and that is who we are going to be as Mainers and as Americans,’” Gideon explained.
Gideon told the audience that they should not look at this election just as a referendum on what is going wrong in the country or who they want to vote out of office, but on what can be fixed going forward. She mentioned the COVID-19 pandemic, systemic racism, and climate change as challenges that she would “make opportunities out of” if elected.
Gideon’s opponent, Republican incumbent Susan Collins, was the talk of much national conversation the same day as Gideon’s Waterville event because of the vote to confirm Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court that took place Monday night. While Collins voted against Barrett, the only Republican to do so, Gideon told the press that Mainers shouldn’t take this protest vote as a reason to vote for her opponent because Collins “knew her vote wasn’t needed” by the Republicans to confirm Trump’s nominee.
Gideon also said that Collins has already voted for Barrett, referring to Barrett’s appointment to the Seventh Circuit Federal Appeals Court in 2017, which Collins voted in favor of. According to Gideon, Collins knew at the time that Barrett opposed both Roe v. Wade and the Supreme Court’s previous decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act, which Gideon said provides health insurance for over 100,00 Mainers.
“Senator Collins has never cast a consequential vote against a Trump judicial nominee and that includes tonight,” Gideon said.
Gideon’s answer to whether she would support expanding the Supreme Court in response to Barrett’s confirmation was a maybe. She said that she would consider whatever proposal came before her as senator through the lens of maintaining an independent, non-politicized judiciary.
Gideon told The Colby Echo that she came to Waterville to specifically see Colby students because of the power of the youth vote.
“Young people understand that the future is yours today. It is not just about what life looks like when you are 25 or 30 but in fact you have the ability to change what is happening right now,” she said.
Gideon said that she thinks young voters are particularly enthusiastic about voting to change who represents them and what those representatives work towards once in office.
Gideon said that students, many of whom are voting for the first time in a national election, should look to each other for support during divisive times.
“The thing that keeps me grounded is the belief in us as people,” Gideon said. “…There have been these times of incredible division before and we make our way through them, but we can only do that by looking around to each other instead of trying to hide from each other or divide ourselves further.”
Gideon mingled with some students at the event. Alex Ozols `22 was one such student.
“It’s awesome that she actually came out to Waterville and had something just for students…at the Head of the Falls here which is so nice,” Ozols said. “Even though it’s kind of cloudy today, it’s a great experience to be out here.”
Sam Miller `23 also spoke with Gideon, which Miller said she was not expecting to do. Miller shared that Gideon asked her and her friends how their school years were going and it felt like “she actually cared to hear about us.”
Ellie Spector `21 had a conversation with Gideon as well.
“I think it’s just a really cool opportunity to meet someone who’s been working so hard and just really wants to connect with students,” Spector said.
The Colby Republicans told The Colby Echo in an email that they were glad to see Gideon come to Waterville because they feel that most students “strongly support” her.
The club has not endorsed a candidate in the senate race because they generally “don’t think it would be beneficial to the nature of our club to take strict positions on issues or candidates because we value the diversity of opinions held by members.”
They shared that organizers for Republican campaigns have reached out to the club and members have been able to volunteer for candidates as they wanted.
During elections, the Colby Republicans think that its purpose is to inform its members about the candidates and issues on the ballot and to represent the various beliefs of its members. They want the community to know that not all of their members have the same political preferences.
“No two members in our club hold the same views on all issues; the Republican party is not a monolithic entity, nor should it be represented as such,” they wrote. “If students on campus can acknowledge this fact, the political climate can be much less divisive.”
Students in the club have shared that professors often assume that everyone in their classes agree about the election.
“The election season escalates the hostility toward conservative ideas (and people) on campus,” they said.
The Colby Republicans encourage students to not vote just along party lines.
“Voting simply based on party lines is not something we support of any student, whether Republican or Democrat,” they wrote.
While the Colby Democrats emphasized Colby students’ right to vote in Waterville and their role in the Maine senate race, the Colby Republicans recommend that students vote in their hometown unless they plan to live in the Waterville area after graduating.
The Colby Republicans expressed some qualms with ColbyVotes, writing that they feel that some ColbyVotes organizers “only encourage voting if you’re voting the way they want you to vote.”
Senator Collins’ office did not respond to a request for comment.
~Sonia Lachter `22