On November 28th, I visited Lewiston, Maine and spoke with Jared Golden, who is running for Congress in Maine's 2nd district. A transcript of our conversation is below.
If after reading this interview you agree with me that Jared is the right candidate for Maine, please join me in donating generously to his campaign, either individually or as part of our Great Slate of eight progressive candidates!
An Interview With Jared Golden, Candidate For Congress in ME-02
Can you describe your district to people who have never been here?
Absolutely. This district is the largest congressional district east of the Mississippi River. It is very large and very rural. I can drive six hours north and reach the Canadian border; I can drive six hours south and be in New York City.
Maine is 1.3 million people, so not only is it a very large area, but it's not heavily populated. There are a lot of traditional ways of making a living here, so—fishing, farming. There was a fair amount of manufacturing base here; that's basically gone away. I think this district is a good example of those that people talk about in regard to communities that have really been left behind moving into a 21st century economy.
This is just a part of the country that's taken a real hit, similar to the heartland. Some people might actually compare it quite a bit, in terms of our economy and what our politics is becoming.
Yeah, it's like a Midwestern state that got stuck in an odd corner of the country.
This happens to be the only congressional district in all of New England that has a Republican incumbent in the House. So it's certainly a target in that respect as well.
We like to say Maine is the way life should be. I don't know that it's necessarily better than other places in the country, but it's certainly a great place to live and make a life: slow pace, good people for the most part, just about anywhere you'd go. It's a place people would like to visit.
Unlike the other candidates that we're supporting, you actually have a bit of a political history: You've been in state politics.
What was the moment was that you decided you really had to get into this congressional race, and then also what was the moment that got you into politics to begin with, when you decided "I have to do this myself"?
Well, I'll start with running "myself". I served four years in the Marine Corps infantry, from 2002 to 2006, and served over in Afghanistan and Iraq. When I came back to Maine, I didn't follow politics at all. This wasn't really something I cared about. In fact, when I had the opportunity to go to college after the military, I was focused on international affairs, and—still thinking a lot about Afghanistan and Iraq—I went back, and I was a volunteer schoolteacher in Afghanistan.
I went back and worked over in Iraq as well, in the freight forwarding and logistics field, but ultimately started to feel—working in Afghanistan in particular—that there were a lot of signs that, for all of our efforts, we weren't actually moving the needle in helping that country. I found that very frustrating and started to question and ask myself "What am I doing and contributing to?" and becoming somewhat aware that there were plenty of things back home that weren't perfect either—started looking to come home and find a good job.
My first job in politics was on the Homeland Security Committee staff in the U.S. Senate, working for Senator Susan Collins. I'm a lifelong Democrat—I've been registered since I was 18—but my first job was for a Republican here in Maine. I did that for about two years and then moved back to Maine to go to work for the House Democratic office in the Maine state legislature.
I was only there for all of about seven months when there was a retirement in the community that I represent due to a family health issue, and not much time to find a candidate. People were asking me if I would consider, and I said "no" again and again. For me, what ultimately led me to think about doing it had to do with my military service.
I had come home and been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress, and I at times didn't get a lot of outreach from the V.A., other than just being given—you know, handed a diagnosis. There was no real follow up about what that meant for me, what was available to me; it was something I just worked out for myself over time. That bothered me, so when I was thinking about the opportunity to run, I asked myself what could I potentially accomplish here in the state to elevate that issue and figure out what state action could be taken to make sure that doesn't happen to other veterans in the state. That was what drove me into running in the first place.
In terms of running for Congress: I've been in the state legislature for three years now. I'm currently serving as the House Assistant Majority Leader, and so I was on the forefront of some big battles here in the state in the last year. We had four voter referendums that passed: to raise the minimum wage, to put a tax on income over $200,000 to help pay for state funding for public education, something unique called ranked-choice voting—people in California might be familiar with it in some municipalities—and then legalization of marijuana.
Three out of four of those referendums have been blocked by a governor who is a Tea Party Republican and a [Maine] Senate Republican majority that are essentially blocking the outcome of a direct—you know, democratic outcome.
Kind of astonishing.
They even went so far as to shut down government over it.
For me, that was very frustrating and upsetting to watch, particularly in the context of the outcome of our 2016 presidential election. I have reached a place where I feel like we're at such an important time in our country, and I asked myself what role can I play and contribute.
I think that, among my generation, people who have served in the military have a very different perspective. Only about one percent of us serve; not many of us have been in combat in Afghanistan and Iraq, and I think that helps people to see a bigger picture about what this is all supposed to be about, in terms of our country. And so I want to take that perspective down to Washington, and I also want to take what I learned about leadership in the military and apply it to our politics.
This is actually considered—rightly in my opinion—a very winnable district. It has a strong history of voting Democratic, but you're up against an incumbent who has deep pockets and has the Republican political machine behind him. So what is your plan to unseat him, given that?
To spell that out for people, this congressional district was represented by Democrats from 1994 to 2014. This is a congressional district that voted for President Obama in 2008 and 2012 and, of course, most recently voted for Donald Trump. So it's definitely one of the swing districts that we can take back.
It's a community where the populist message has really taken root as a result of a struggling economy. So people here voted to raise the minimum wage to $12 an hour, for example.
My opponent has about $1.7 million in the bank, right now.
Wow. That goes far in Maine.
Yeah, that goes a long ways in Maine. I've got about $100,000, so we've got some work to do in that regard, but the good news is it's not always about who has the most money. In fact, our governor repeatedly won despite being outspent by Democratic opponents, so it can be done.
I think that a successful Democratic campaign here has to focus on those economic issues that are confronting people who have lost good manufacturing jobs in the last two decades, are struggling with questions about secure retirement or even finding a good-paying job to replace the one they've lost, and watching a lot of our young talent leave the state for other opportunities.
There's a lot of people here that are scared about the economic future of the state of Maine, and I intend to stay focused on that—focused on the ways in which a working-class candidate better understands working-class issues than my opponent, who is a millionaire from Wall Street. We're just going to work hard.
We are committed to running a strong field campaign that's about motivating voters to come out—whether they be voters who have voted in the past but didn't because they didn't feel like they had the right candidate to come out and vote for, or engaging new voters and turning them out—is something we're committed to.
We're actually helping do it right now in our mayor's race here in the city of Lewiston. We have a progressive candidate who is committing himself to turning out thousands of new voters in this city alone, just for a mayor's race. So we know it can be done.
So what can tech people—who might live out in California or down in New York and Boston—what can we do to help you win?
Well, you can spread the word. You can talk about the importance of focusing on these types of districts across the country and make a case for why people who live in safe Democratic districts should be throwing resources and support to key battlegrounds like this one.
Certainly, this is a poor, rural state, and it takes money to win elections—we all know that's true—and there's not a lot of money to be raised here in Maine. So we are not only running against our Republican incumbent opponent, but we're in many ways running against every candidate in this nation to attract attention and show voters that we can win this race, given the resources that we need. So people can send money as well.
Money goes a long ways in this media market, and in terms of voter engagement it certainly goes a very long way. You can win a state seat here in Maine with about $10,000. This congressional race will be expensive, but not as expensive as California or New York.
Our campaign team is very confident that if we get my bio—my record of service, both in the military and in the community, in the state legislature—coupled with my focus on economic issues, on working-class issues, on infrastructure development in rebuilding a community like Maine's 2nd congressional district, that we can win. It's going to take money to get that message out and build the name recognition.
The Democrats ran the same candidate for this seat in 2014 and lost, and again in 2016 and lost. And that candidate raised about $1.6 million the first race, then went on to raise about $3.4 million in the second race, and the outcome was the same. So there is a point of diminishing returns. I need about 1½ or 2 million dollars.
The problem is, for me to raise that much money myself—just dialing call after call—will prevent me from going out and talking to voters. So that's why I need outside investment to free me up to go meet people face-to-face as soon as I can.
I'm very sanguine about your campaign; I think you're going to win this race. When you're sworn in, what is going to be the first issue that you really want to focus on in Congress?
There are many I can think of, but I would like to take President Trump up on his offer to rebuild America by investing in our crumbling infrastructure.
It's particularly obvious in a place like rural Maine, and it's easy to understand, I think, how investing in our infrastructure shows voters that we're serious about economic issues. And I think Democrats with a House majority should be taking the President up on that commitment to the American people.
Thank you so much for talking to me!
Please share this interview with others, and take a moment to donate to Jared's campaign individually, or as part of the Great Slate of progressive candidates like him! We can help him flip this vast, majority Democrat district in 2018 if we give him adequate resources in 2017.
You can give up to $2,700 in the primary election, and again in the general election. You must be a U.S. citizen or green card holder to donate. Please give as generously as you can to help us win this pivotal seat!