Politics & Other Mistakes: Old and in the way

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When I was in high school, I once suggested to my English teacher that everyone over 70 years old should be shot. The teacher, who was teetering on the brink of my proposed execution date, was not amused. My grade suffered accordingly.

Now that I’ve aged to the point where I qualify for elimination, my views on the subject have mellowed. I no longer want old people to be murdered. I just want them forcibly retired.

Al DiamonOne need only look at the upper echelon of Maine’s political establishment to see the need for mandatory removal. With the exception of Democratic 2nd District U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, who is 39, all our top elected officials are geriatric.

Independent U.S. Sen. Angus King is 77. Democratic Gov. Janet Mills is 74. Republican Sen. Susan Collins is 69. Democratic 1st District Rep. Chellie Pingree is 66. None of them has had a fresh idea since before the turn of the century.

What’s equally discouraging is that those seeking to replace this lot are nearly all past their best-used-by dates. Former GOP Gov. Paul LePage is challenging Mills; LePage is 73. Republican ex-Congressman Bruce Poliquin wants to oust Golden; Poliquin is 68. Pingree does face a youthful challenger in the Democratic primary; Aaron Amede, 26, has no money, no name recognition, and no experience. For all the impact he’ll have, he might as well be 90.

The only old fart in Maine politics honest enough to admit his shortcomings is independent Tom Saviello, 71, who told the Franklin Journal one of the reasons he’s not running for governor is he “cannot identify” with young voters.

“I do not know what is important to them,” Saviello said.

According to the Center for Youth Political Participation at Rutgers University, the average age of Maine candidates for Congress in 2020 was 54, but that number is somewhat misleading. Only one of those 15 congressional hopefuls was under 35, and that was an irrelevant independent. Discounting him and Golden, the figure would have been near 60. The average for Republican candidates was 63.

Nearly half those running were baby boomers. Only two were millennials.

To some extent, this dominance by codgers is understandable. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Maine is the oldest state in the nation with a median age of 44.9 years old. That’s more than six years older than the national median and nearly two years more geezerish than the second oldest state, New Hampshire.

But median age means half the population is younger than 44.9, so an overwhelming majority of Maine residents are less aged than nearly all our leaders. The result is the interests of most Mainers are being disregarded by an entrenched coterie of coots.

It’s true there are some younger faces in the Legislature, but not as many as you might think. According to a 2015 study by Brigham Young University, the average age in the Maine House was 54. In the state Senate, it was 61. More than 70 percent of legislators were boomers.

I couldn’t find any more recent statistics, but the situation might be a little better today. If it is, it’s temporary. Democratic Speaker of the House Ryan Fecteau is just 29 (the youngest House speaker in the country), but he’s term-limited and can’t run again. His replacement will probably be Assistant Majority Leader Rachel Talbot Ross, who’s something north of 60. Democratic state Sen. Chloe Maxmin – at 29, the youngest member of that body – isn’t seeking reelection, opting instead to go to law school.

It can’t be disputed that old people are over-represented in state government. As a consequence, their concerns receive priority, while the problems facing those not yet qualified for AARP cards get shuffled aside. Little wonder that most Mainers under 40 neither know nor care what the Legislature is doing, since it’s unlikely to have any positive impact on their lives. They figure their time is better spent losing themselves in a video game.

The next generation of leaders may be too busy executing aliens to care about clearing the aging rubble out of the way.

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