A comment by former Maine House Speaker Mark Eves two weeks ago in Lewiston has gone viral, with conservative websites blaming him for “white bashing” even though his comment echoed statements made by others, including Maine Republicans.
It is “a classic example of how the alt-right and the fake news media operate,” the Democratic gubernatorial contender said last week in response to the criticism.
A few weeks ago, Eves joined a number of candidates at a forum in Lewiston, where they each talked for a time with small knots of people who asked questions and offered ideas.
In one of those small circles organized by the Maine People’s Alliance, a woman asked Eves what he thought about Maine’s lack of diversity.
Eves responded by calling the state’s whiteness “bad news” and offered the opinion that Maine’s economy is going to be in trouble if it can’t attract a more diverse population because it will badly need young people and immigrants for jobs as its current population continues to decline.
It was just one question among many, answered swiftly and without much depth, because others were ready to toss a new one at Eves.
That response was included in a Sun Journal story about the Aug. 29 event.
Citing the newspaper’s story, Maine First Media — a conservative website —published an account a day later that claimed Eves had told a “group of nearly 100 activists and grassroots supporters that ‘Maine’s whiteness is bad news.’”
Its Aug. 31 online piece then asked why Eves would make such an “anti-white” comment at “a time in our nation when racial rhetoric seems to be at an all-time high, and political violence is being embraced by leftist militant groups.”
It asked, “Does he truly believe that the many hard-working Franco-American families in Maine are ‘bad news’? What about the Irish-American? Or the Italian-American?”
From there, the story of Eves’ supposed hatred for white people — he is white — exploded across a wide range of conservative-oriented websites, news sites and blogs, including Breitbart and The Daily Caller.
Fox News’ conservative commentator Tucker Carlson sought an interview with Eves to “discuss his goals and hopes for the people of Maine moving forward,” according to an email from the senior booker for his “Tucker Carlson Tonight” show. Eves declined.
The National Sentinel said that “if you needed any more evidence that the Democratic Party has been hijacked by racialists who believe the road to political success lies in white-bashing,” Eves’ words are proof.
Talking about Eves’ remark recently on Portland radio station WGAN, Rep. Ellie Espling, R-New Gloucester, said she is “tired of the white-bashing.”
Demi Kouzounas, the leader of the Maine Republican Party, said the comment by Eves “is yet another revelation that Maine Democrats are sadly more focused on the color of people’s skin than the content of their character.”
“Maine people are looking for answers on issues such as jobs, taxes, the state budget, energy costs and welfare reform, and Mark Eves is instead focusing on the color of our resident’s skin and identity politics,” Kouzounas said.
Contacted last week, Eves returned fire at his critics. “These guys try to bully candidates off the field,” he said, before insisting he won’t back down in the face of their attacks. “We can’t let ourselves be scared off the playing field by tactics like this.”
Despite the wrath of conservative commentators and the state GOP’s leader, Eves’ point is not much different than the one made by everyone from LePage to demographers who have studied the issue.
Maine’s widespread whiteness is a symptom of a problem that officials have long identified as perhaps the biggest the state faces: its aging workforce.
Maine’s mostly white population is getting older. And its children — again mostly white — are often leaving the state for education, jobs or both, not staying to raise families. Unless that trend reverses, Maine will need to attract people from out of state to fill job openings. Because the rest of the nation is — and continues to get — more diverse, the result will naturally create more diversity in Maine, experts say.
Eves said there’s nothing more important than figuring out how to get Maine’s economy humming. One key to it, he said, is to encourage young people and immigrants “to plant their good ideas and grow our economy.”
With Maine’s median age approaching 45, the oldest in the country, LePage recently called the trend devastating and insisted Maine must do more to convince young people to come.
Since younger Americans have increasingly diverse backgrounds, more of them choosing to live in Maine almost inevitably leads to a more diverse population for the state. A study by the nonprofit Brookings Institution found “the most defining characteristic” of the nation’s youngest generation is its “racial diversity.”
Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Diane Russell said at the same progressive event that a more diverse population would deliver economic and cultural advantages to the state as well as “bringing new ideas to the table” that might help spark changes for the better.
The Brookings Institution study revealed that a continual decline in Maine’s mostly white population because of lower birth rates and the dearth of new whites or minorities coming into the Pine Tree State may impact its future.
“It’s an older state, a whiter state” and a state that’s seeing a decline in its population without attracting more people to make up the difference, demographer William Frey said Monday.
Frey, who did the study for Brookings, said Maine is “one of the whitest states in the country,” so lacking in minorities that it is “distinct even in New England,” which has more white people than other regions of the nation.
Maine is one of only four states where the post-millennial generation — those under age 18 — is mostly white.
Since a majority of Americans under age 5 are not white, the future of the United States is far more diverse than Maine will be unless its migration pattern changes sharply.
“Maine is quite different from the rest of the country,” Frey said.
The study found that Maine joins West Virginia, New Hampshire and Vermont as the only states where whites are a majority in the under-18 age group.
It is one of a handful of states where the millennial generation — those 18 to 35 — is more than 80 percent white. Those states tend to be more rural than in other places.
According to the Brookings study, minority children make up more than 40 percent of the next generation in 25 states. In California, they make up 75 percent of the next generation.
What’s more, the study found, the trend is toward a diminishing percentage of white Americans overall.
The shifting demographics of the youngest Americans is a nearly inevitable sign that in half a century, whites will constitute a minority in the United States.
Northern New England, though, isn’t following the trend. It remains solidly white at all ages. But its average age is growing ever higher at the same time, pointing toward a demographic blow that leaves the region without enough workers to keep its economy humming.
The Brookings study’s finding indicates that Maine and Vermont are merely extreme examples of what’s happening nationwide.
“More white children are aging past 18 than are being born or immigrating,” it found.
Frey said that while white fertility is low, “it is the aging of the white population, with proportionately fewer women in their childbearing years, that is leading to a projected long-term continuation of this trend.”
His study said that more whites are growing old than are being born in 46 states.
“This means that the route for youth population gain in most states is through minority gains, via fertility or in-migration,” the study said, “thus making the child population more racially diverse.”
A mural celebrating diversity decorates a hallway in Lewiston High School in Lewiston on Wednesday, March 15, 2017.