Maine faces some big challenges in the years ahead. Its aging population and declining birth rate mean the state will eventually run out of workers. Climate change is also making a big impact on Maine, with warming seas creating a dire outlook for the lobster industry. It’s not all gloom and doom in the north, however. In 2018 Mainers elected an inspiring new leader to head the state’s highest office – a candidate who shattered the glass ceiling on the way.
The Ticking Time Bomb
Maine is facing a slowly unfolding disaster. The state has the country’s oldest population, with a median age of 44.7. In 2020, it will add a dubious distinction to its name, when residents aged 65 and older will outnumber the young (those below the age of 18). Maine’s declining birth rate only exacerbates the problem, with more deaths than births over the last few years. State economists say there are not enough young workers to replace the retiring baby boomers in the coming years. One of the hot topics of the day is how to attract young professionals to the state to help stimulate the economy and forestall its demographic crisis. In recent years, Maine has even dangled cash incentives, offering to help pay off student loans to new college grads moving here.
The Fate of Lobsters
Everyone knows lobsters are a big deal in Maine, but few realize just how much they contribute to the state’s economy: around $1.7 billion annually, it turns out, according to one recent study. Lobster fishers have made increasing hauls in recent years, pulling in over 120 million pounds for five consecutive years – compared with 80 million pounds in 2009 and 54 million 10 years earlier. The catch, however, declined in 2017, and some researchers think the lobster is at a critical tipping point. Lobsters favor cold waters, and, as the coastal waters off southern New England have warmed, the crustaceans have moved north. The lobster industry south of Cape Cod has collapsed, declining more than 75% in the last two decades. The industry lobster fishing in the Gulf of Maine faces a similar future. Over the last decade, the Gulf of Maine has warmed faster than 99% of the world’s oceans. With these rising temperatures, the crustaceans will eventually migrate further north – the effect on the state’s economy will be devastating.
When Mainers went to the polls during the midterm elections in 2018, they faced an unusual ballot. Instead of just the names and affiliated parties, each ballot had a ranking system, allowing them to select their first-choice candidate, second choice and so on down the line. In a referendum held back in 2016, Mainers voted to implement this new voting strategy in state-wide elections, and Maine became the first place in the country to adopt ranked-choice voting. In ranked voting, if no candidate wins an outright majority (over 50%), then the tabulating begins, with the elimination of the lowest-vote candidates, until one obvious winner emerges. Advocates of the new voting method claim it’s a more democratic system and avoids expensive run-off elections. Critics, however, complain that ranked choice creates a faux majority and disenfranchises voters – this at least was the argument by Bruce Poliquin, the Republican incumbent from Maine’s Second Congressional District who lost the election to Democrat Jared Golden.
A Historic Election
The 2018 elections brought a new face to the political stage in Maine. Maine’s former attorney general, Janet Mills, was elected governor, becoming the first woman in the state’s history to hold the office. She replaced the controversial Republican Paul LePage, who blocked the expansion of Medicaid even after voters approved the measure in a referendum. LePage was also known for his controversial rhetoric, once even declaring that Hispanics and people of color were the enemy. During her campaign, Janet Mills promised a very different approach from her predecessor. She’s also no stranger to breaking the glass ceiling, having become the first woman in Maine to be elected district attorney in 1980, as well as state attorney general in 2009. Her victory has inspired many women organizations in the state, who are hopeful that Mills can make positive strides towards gender equality and address critical issues for families.