Melissa Harris-Perry: Welcome back to The Takeaway on Melissa Harris-Perry. In 2018, just three years after graduating from Harvard University, Chloe Maxmin was elected to represent Maine's 88 legislative districts, the first Democrat ever to do so. Two years later she won a seat in the Maine state senate, and at 29 years old, became the youngest woman ever to hold a seat there.
Maxmin is the subject of a 2020 short documentary titled Rural Runners. It explores the way that she secured victory in an overwhelmingly Republican district that she was expected to lose. Earlier this year, she published a book co-authored with her campaign manager, Canyon Woodward, Dirt Road Revival: How to Rebuild Rural Politics and Why Our Future Depends On It. With me now is Main State Senator, Chloe Maxmin. Senator Maxmin, thanks for being with us on The Takeaway.
Chloe Maxmin: Thank you so much for having me.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Now, I know you're not seeking reelection, so how are you spending this election?
Chloe Maxmin: I have been doing a lot of work helping other candidates who are running in tricky rural seats and making sure I'm doing everything that I can to help get them elected. I also work at another job supporting young folks in rural Maine who are trying to vote, making sure they have all of the resources to get to their polling places today. Canyon and I just started a new non-profit called Dirt Road Organizing that's really focused on building up the resources and support for rural folks who are trying to make a difference, and we've been doing a lot of work leading up today, trying to get people out to vote in rural areas.
Melissa Harris-Perry: It's such a good reminder that US House, US Senate, those are decently paid gigs, but state senate are not full-time full-paying jobs. Almost everyone ends up having another job to actually pay the bills. It's critical, thanks for that reminder. Can you tell us why you made a decision not to seek reelection?
Chloe Maxmin: Yes. I've been in the legislature for four years here in Maine. I started this process when I was 25 and now I'm 30, and there were so many factors that went into me deciding not to run. I think the biggest one is that I just really believe in grassroots movements, and I think that our hope and our future relies on them. As an elected official, I so depended on and followed the lead of the grassroots movements that were bringing critical issues to the legislature for solutions. Nothing would happen without that kind of power, and I want to keep investing in that power.
I also just want to get more folks elected, more progressives elected in rural areas. There's such a shortage of resources and support for rural folks who are running as Democrats or progressive independents. There are many people out there doing that work, but we need more of it. I would rather get lots of people elected than just work on getting myself elected every two years.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Now, Rural Runners, which is the 2020 documentary, is about running both for office and being a runner. How are those connected for you?
Chloe Maxmin: Canyon, my campaign manager, we've been best friends since we met in college over a decade ago, and he's a professional ultra runner. He runs these crazy 100-mile races with wild elevation gain. It's pretty intense, and it's something that you train for and then you have this big day and you go and do it and everything builds up to this one moment.
Canyon, in particular, because he's the runner, just noted many similarities between that process and running a campaign where you're really careening towards this one day that defines all of the work that you've put into your work since then, and it's just that process. How do you take care of yourself and have fun, but work hard when there's so much at stake?
Melissa Harris-Perry: Let's talk about the 88th for a moment. I went and took a look. There's only about 9,000 people living in that district. 94% white Americans, more than half male, which is actually unusual in a lot of districts. Tell me, are districts like that really the future of the democratic party?
Chloe Maxmin: Yes. Our house districts in Maine are very small. We were the first Democrat to get elected in District 88, but only since it had been redistricted, just for hyper clarity, but what Canyon and I saw both growing up in these rural red districts, District 88 had a 16-point Republican advantage when we started to run. We came into this work with the really clear intent of saying, "Trump got elected in 2016, clearly with so much support from rural Americans." There was an even partisan split amongst rural voters in 2009, and as of 2019, rural folks were going red by 16 points.
There's something huge and fast happening in rural America. I realized, I'm ashamed to say, but for the first time in 2016, I realized that my hometown house district and my hometown senate district both voted for Trump in 2016, and it is very white and it just felt to me, I'm also white. I felt this responsibility to dig into my community and understand what was happening. What we found is that a lot of folks, and a lot of rural folks in particular, just feel really disenchanted with the Democratic Party.
Although there are so many Democrats in my community and communities across the country who are doing hard good work in rural America, we just haven't had the resources to really scale it up in a way to fight the forces that the right is putting out there right now. We were going around talking to folks who voted for Trump. We were talking to folks who had never been contacted by a Democratic candidate or canvasser before in their entire voting history. We were driving down the long dirt roads to the houses in the middle of the woods and I think we thought, and probably a lot of other folks might think, that we just didn't have good conversations with people, but it was the exact opposite.
We found so much common ground and empathy and space for understanding and space to agree to disagree. I think if we're looking at what Democrats are fighting for, what Progressives are fighting for in terms of our voting rights, reproductive rights, climate justice, we cannot secure these policy wins without the support of rural America. We will never get the kind of sustainable political power in state legislatures, nevermind Congress or governorships, without massive investments in progressive organizing in rural spaces.
Melissa Harris-Perry: State Senator Maxmin, hold for me just one moment. We'll be right back. This is The Takeaway. We're back with more from The Takeaway on election day 2022. I'm Melissa Harris-Perry. We're continuing our conversation with Maine State Senator, Chloe Maxmin. She became the youngest woman elected to the Maine state senate back in 2020 after serving as the first Democrat to represent Maine's conservative rural state legislative District 88.
She is the co-author of Dirt Road Revival: How to Rebuild Rural Politics and Why Our Future Depends On It. I'm interested in this point around climate justice because I know that this is where a lot of your political engagement began, even as a student. I've always thought that rural voters in particular have an understanding of the climate and how it changes, how it operates our stewardship responsibilities related to it. Tell me about, as you were deep canvassing, what you learned about how many rural voters think about and talk about climate issues.
Chloe Maxmin: Yes, and I learned so much about this topic and it really is informed by my experiences in my rural white district. One of the reasons I ran for office is because I had been doing a lot of climate organizing that was really targeted at the political system and the people we elect. I felt so disillusioned with politics. I was just like, "Why do we elect people if they're not going to listen to the people that elected them?" Especially on climate, because I see that as really the greatest threat to folks here in Maine and our way of life and our history. That was really on my mind while I was canvassing in 2018 and 2020, but I really didn't hear people talk about climate change that much.
I didn't hear them use those words exactly, but what I did hear was a lot of people saying, "I'm a farmer and the droughts are just getting so intense in the summer times," or, "I used to go ice fishing every November growing up, but can't do that anymore. There's no ice." It was 70 degrees here in Maine yesterday. I hear people talking about the need for good jobs and sustainable industries, and so when I hear all of these things, I hear, "Oh, this is climate change impacting our community and our way of life, and it's also the opportunity that we have to build to build out the solutions that we need in rural places."
That's what I heard. It played into this larger theme that I was really surprised by, which is just, we can translate our progressive values and what we want to see as Democrats into a rural conservative context because for the most part, when it comes to values, we all want affordable healthcare. We all want to be able to sustain our farms in the summertime. We all want to be able to go ice fishing, we all want our kids to have a good education. We just talk about it in really different ways and we focus on what divides us instead of saying, "I see that we have something in common here, and can we start from there?"
Melissa Harris-Perry: As you mentioned, you are just over the line into your thirties, what's next for your political future?
Chloe Maxmin: Canyon and I just started a non-profit called Dirt Road Organizing that's really aimed at building up the resources and support for rural progressives who are doing this political work. I think there was so much that I wish we had when we were running for office just in terms of support and advice and just basic resources and we really want to pay it forward and support a lot of folks who are doing this work. I think the long-term vision is that rural progressives are really running and winning on values that fight for everybody, and that's what we're working towards.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Maine State Senator, Chloe Maxmin, thanks so much for joining us today.
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