Good evening from the BDN Portland office on Congress Street, which today feels exactly like the Pacific Northwest (minus a few degrees), where I spent my Thanksgiving break.
What we’re talking about
Tonight, I want to pull back a little from the city of Portland to focus on a big story the BDN published this morning.
Maine Focus Editor Erin Rhoda spent some time digging into the demographic forces shaping our state — and, specifically, what the decline of its more rural counties feels like for those left behind.
As more people have died or left outlying, rural Maine towns, those remaining have watched the places around them change fundamentally and, sometimes, disappear.
The state passed a milestone in 2011 when deaths began to outnumber births. But the counties along the rural rim of Maine — Oxford, Franklin, Somerset, Piscataquis, Aroostook and Washington — reached that point much earlier. The last time they, as a group, saw more births than deaths was in 1995, according to vital statistics data compiled by the BDN.
Three rim counties — Oxford, Franklin and Somerset — have grown their populations slightly since 2000 due to in-migration.
It’s not possible to know the fate of individual rural communities, but the odds of reversing population decline in general are slim.
Especially for places with net out-migration and more deaths than births, “the prospects for future population gains are limited at best,” wrote the Carsey Institute in a 2006 report on demographic trends in rural America.
As Maine’s more remote counties continue to lose their people, it stands to alter the collective memory and identity of those places. The loss is an economic one. It’s also personal.
As a longtime Portland resident and native of a more rural county, this part in particular jumped out at me:
The trend of continued loss raises existential questions. Why should people care about communities in remote areas that mainly trees wish to reclaim?
“Maybe the point is they shouldn’t care. The ones that care have a connection to it,” my father hypothesized.
But doesn’t anyone who lives in Maine have a connection to rural land, whether they know it or not? Its lumber builds our homes. Its farmland feeds us. Its people raise generations.
In other news
Noyes Street victims’ families will speak in court on Thursday — Jake Bleiberg reports that the judge presiding over the sentencing of landlord Gregory Nisbet delayed the proceedings until Thursday.
Several family members of those killed on the third floor didn’t attend because they mistakenly believed they would not be able to speak at the sentencing, according to Cumberland County Superior Court Justice Thomas Warren. Nisbet will be sentenced Thursday, when family members of the deceased can give victim impact statements.
“I think it’s fair to allow people who want to be heard to be heard,” Warren said. “And I don’t think it’s fair to deprive them of that because of a misunderstanding.”
The state is delaying the review of Department of Corrections policies after a suicide at Long Creek — The Press Herald’s Matt Byrne reports that the internal review of the DOC’s policies around suicide prevention and transgender inmates was slated to happen this week:
Department of Corrections Commissioner Joseph Fitzpatrick said Tuesday that the meeting, which had been slated to take place sometime this week, was put off after he and others in the group grew concerned that they would not be able to discuss the circumstances of the death of Charles Maisey Knowles until an investigation into what occurred is completed by the Maine Attorney General’s Office. Knowles hung himself Oct. 29 and died Nov. 1 at Maine Medical Center after being taken off life support.
A Portland restaurant owner says he’s closing his joint after 18 years in part because of the minimum wage hike — It never got a James Beard nod, but Bibo’s Madd Apple Cafe was a reasonable place to eat in an increasingly spendy city. Chef/owner Bill Boutwell told Kathleen Pierce today he was tired and ready to call it quits when the minimum wage initiative passed. “Everyone says, ‘well, just raise your prices.’ That is not who we are. We don’t want to have a restaurant where people have to mortgage their house to have dinner,” he said.
Portland’s beer cluster just got bigger — Two former Gritty McDuff’s employees are breaking out on their own this winter in the same complex as two other breweries.
The Big Idea
Democracy might not be as stable as we think — New research, reported in the New York Times, finds “that liberal democracies around the world may be at serious risk of decline.” Oh, boy.
Side note: American millennials apparently are increasingly in favor of the military taking over the country, if the government isn’t doing a good job.
Support for autocratic alternatives is rising, too. Drawing on data from the European and World Values Surveys, the researchers found that the share of Americans who say that army rule would be a “good” or “very good” thing had risen to 1 in 6 in 2014, compared with 1 in 16 in 1995.
That trend is particularly strong among young people. For instance, in a previously published paper, the researchers calculated that 43 percent of older Americans believed it was illegitimate for the military to take over if the government were incompetent or failing to do its job, but only 19 percent of millennials agreed. The same generational divide showed up in Europe, where 53 percent of older people thought a military takeover would be illegitimate, while only 36 percent of millennials agreed.
Got any interesting story ideas, suggestions or links to share? Email Dan MacLeod at firstname.lastname@example.org, or tweet @dsmacleod.
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