By Aislinn Forbes Contributing Writer
Local Maine politics isn’t flashy. Candidates for Maine State Congress don’t have a lot of money, or high profile campaign organizers, or ads with perfect production value. But they do have a lot of say in Mainers’ daily lives.
Mariah Langton has been deeply involved with Jan Collin’s campaign, a Democratic candidate running for State Senate in Farmington’s district. Every week, Langton grabs a clipboard and walks or drives around Franklin County neighborhoods with Collins, knocking on doors and starting conversations with local residents about the elections. Langton has also served as a bridge between the other members of Collins’ campaign and the younger generation.
“I’m by far the youngest person on the team,” said Langton. “She really values my opinion.”
Langton is enrolled in UMF’s Practical Politics class, currently taught by James Melcher, which requires students to choose a campaign they would like to work on and dedicate time every week to their chosen campaign.
“Students can pick whatever campaign they want,” assured Melcher. “I just want my students to play clean, fight hard, and learn something.”
Students aren’t limited to local campaigns; for example some students have contributed to Angus King’s campaign this semester and local candidates are very receptive to student involvement. Some local candidates even seek out Melcher to find out if there are students in the class at the time of their candidacy.
Candidates, and their representatives, come into the class so students can get an idea of who they might like to work with. Allison Hepler, a History professor at UMF, spoke to the class about her bid to represent district 53 in the Maine House. Hepler was ecstatic to have students involved in her campaign.
“Not only is it more efficient for me as a candidate,” said Hepler, “but also more fun!”
Langton decided to take the class because of her limited experiences and opportunities in the past. Living in rural Maine made it difficult for her to travel or get accurate information about her local campaigns, especially before she turned 18. The Practical Politics class presented her with the opportunity to learn more and get involved.
“I’ve learned a lot,” said Langton. “But as I learned it, it didn’t feel like a lot.”
“Most people [that take the class] have never been involved in a campaign before,” said Melcher. But it’s not just about the experience and connections, ethics is also a big part of the class. Melcher wants his students to ask themselves, “What is ethical to do in a campaign?” and “Do I want to run myself?”
Melcher inherited the class from his predecessor, Jack Quinn. Though Melcher is unsure of what year the class started, he knows it has been around since the early 1980’s at least. Many of the alumni of the class have gone on to professionally manage campaigns and serve in the Maine State Legislature, on both sides of the aisle. Lance Harvell, an alumni of the class, represents the Farmington area in the Maine House of representatives as a republican and has since 2009.
“I’m proud,” Melcher said fiercely, “that my students are all over the spectrum.”