I grew up in poverty in the south end of Waterville, in a Franco-American family of mill workers and farmers. I’ve seen how the decline in our economy has hit working-class families hard. I know how poverty and drug abuse, hopelessness and anger can tear families and communities apart. And for too long I’ve seen politicians promise to bring back the past, which they have no power to do.
I dropped out of high school in the ninth grade and went to work loading tractor-trailer trucks on the night shift at the local bakery. Then I worked at a mill and in construction. When I was 18, I got myself in trouble with the law, for receiving stolen goods, and ended up spending eight months at the correctional center in Windham.
While I was there, I had the opportunity to reflect upon my life, and how I was wasting the talents I had been blessed with. I determined to turn my life around, dig myself out of the hole that I’d dug and help others lift themselves up with me.
Since then, I’ve built a successful career as a small business owner, an advocate for Maine, an organization-builder and an author. I’ve worked to improve the lives of poor people, build affordable housing for single parents, rebuild my neighborhood and promote good jobs for Maine people. I also helped build organizations working on transportation, energy, telecommunications and the environment.
During this last decade, I founded GrowSmart Maine and Envision Maine, where we convened hundreds of Maine’s best thinkers and doers, from across the political spectrum, to focus on the future, on common ground and common purpose. I’ve also co-authored two books – Reinventing Maine Government and Maine’s Next Economy – and written weekly columns for the Maine Sunday Telegram and Central Maine newspapers.
Through it all, I’ve seen Maine from the bottom, the middle and the top. I’ve seen how hard it is to get ahead in many parts of Maine. But I’ve also seen the great work that thousands of Mainers are doing to move us forward.