An Interview with Chloe Maxmin
by Friends of the Earth U.S.
In 2018, Chloe Maxmin became the first Democrat to win Maine House District 88. Chloe is young Mainer with a background in climate justice and community organizing. She is also a member of Friends of the Earth’s board of directors. Her victory provides a roadmap for how Democrats and progressives can win in rural districts and shows that climate change should be a major policy issue for all Democrats.
Chloe has proposed a Green New Deal for Maine. Like the national plan, Chloe’s bill would set out a plan and a path for Maine to go 100% renewable by 2030, transforming the state’s economy and creating new green jobs. The legislation is bold and ambitious. She told the Portland Press Herald “I know it’s a very ambitious goal, but climate change threatens to undermine our entire economy and culture. So we’re putting out a bold idea.”
Below is an interview we did with Chloe about her campaign and her thoughts on progressive activism and the Democratic Party.
Why did you want to run for office?
We are stuck in a dilemma where we need a political system to survive and thrive, but the current political system we have isn’t working for us. So we need to continue mobilizing outside the system, but we also need people inside the system — people at every level of government who are thinking about politics in a different way.
Your state house district has never been represented by a Democrat. How did you change that? How did you win?
This is a rural district. We knew we had to do things differently in the campaign. We also knew that rural communities are underrepresented and disenfranchised by the Democratic Party. So our goal was to connect with everybody, not based on party but based on the fact that we all care about our community. We know that our community is suffering and that we have some serious challenges that require us to reinvest in our political system in a new way.
What do you think the progressive movement and/or the Democratic Party can learn from your victory and the way you ran your campaign?
We have to invest in local politics. This has never been just about a little statehouse race in Maine. It is about figuring out how we reconnect with people who have been completely disillusioned by a political system that doesn’t seem to care about us anymore. With local races like mine, we’re were able to actually talk to people — visit people two or three times, and it wasn’t just a transactional relationship built on “will you vote for me?” Our task is to reinstate some faith in politics and reassure people that it doesn’t matter if you’re a Democrat or a Republican. It matters that we’re all human beings.
I also think it’s really important to invest in different types of leadership. I think folks are really tired of electing the same kinds of people every single year, but there’s this really exciting wave that is bringing in a new kind of energy. We have a make-or break opportunity to rebuild faith in politics, fight for everyone, and undo many destructive policies.
To me, the core of the progressive movement is being able to come to a conversation with anybody on any part of the political spectrum with an open mind and an open heart and respect. But I don’t think this is something that we always practice. I’m really moved by the power that we have when we chose to respect each other and agree to disagree sometimes. I think we can meet in the middle and agree that our current political system isn’t representing us or listening to us anymore.
We have a make-or break opportunity to rebuild faith in politics, fight for everyone, and undo many destructive policies.
How did you talk to voters in your district about environmental issues?
Here in my district, so much of our livelihoods and our wellbeing centers around a healthy planet. We’re so embedded in nature everyday — it’s part of our world in a really profound and beautiful way. But it’s also hard because we are in a community that has very deep financial struggles — there is a deep need for economic opportunity here. So I think is important that we not put environment and the climate into silos. Emphasizing the social justice impact of environmentalism is so important — especially in rural communities whose livelihoods depend on the environment but who are struggling in other real ways too.
FOE International recently agreed to a framework of “dismantle the patriarchy not the planet.” What is your perspective on this? How do issues of patriarchy intersect with climate change issues?
The way I think about these issues is not about pushing one group down and lifting up another but about finding ways for equal opportunity. There’s a lot we can learn from behaviors that have destroyed our planet — greed and power and ego and the endless pursuit of money and growth. And we see those behaviors playing out in different parts of our life — through gender and race and sexual orientation and other forms of oppression. This is not a framework in which humans can thrive. But it’s hard to blame an individual for a system problem. So the way to dismantle it is not through hate and shame but through kindness and dialogue and debate so we can reveal how these behaviors perpetuate themselves. Not just in private spaces but in our politics and the way we treat our planet.
There’s a lot we can learn from behaviors that have destroyed our planet — greed and power and ego and the endless pursuit of money and growth.
What would you say to young progressives who want to run for office but think they have to “wait their turn,” or that they have to change themselves in order to win?
I used to think that way. I had this narrative in my head that I had to wait until I was in my thirties and had to go to law school or get a graduate degree. I thought that I wasn’t qualified enough. But we’ve been electing folks with 30 years of experience for my entire life, and for my entire life I’ve also seen the political system fail us worse and worse each year. So maybe traditional “experience” isn’t the secret; maybe that’s not the key to better politics. Maybe the key is to elect people who have been on the outside of the system and have been disenfranchised by the system. Young people, people of color, women. They bring a new perspective to politics. That’s really where it starts. So just do it — run.