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Jordan Wood of Bristol moved back to Maine in 2021, after a 10-year career in national Democratic politics. He served as the chief of staff to a member of Congress, and as the vice president for political at End Citizens United.

Professional burnout, the exhaustion of city living and a longing to be closer to nature. These are some of the motivations my husband and I considered when we packed up our lives in Washington, D.C., I quit my job in Democratic politics, and moved to the small fishing village of Round Pond. Another reason we’re adding to that list: Discovering a renewed optimism for politics and hope for American democracy.

This month, we attended our first political event since moving to Maine, a forum at the Bremen Library, hosted by the Lincoln County Democratic Committee, for candidates running in the primary for Senate District 13. The forum was a window into healthy democracy: A system that fosters dialogue, inclusiveness and equal participation, eliminates the undue influence of wealthy donors and special interests, promotes honest and fair debate and ultimately addresses the most important issues facing our community. It offered a stark display for what the politics of Washington, D.C., could learn from the politics of Bremen, Maine.

Like so many Americans, I’ve become cynical, disenchanted and pessimistic about the future of our democracy. I started out in politics during my senior year at St. Dominic High School in Auburn. I went door-to-door with other young, idealistic, friends encouraging voters to support Barack Obama in Maine’s Democratic caucus. We were inspired by Obama’s call for a new politics, a renewal of our democracy, premised on hope, optimism, and change.

This idealistic mindset slowly eroded over a 10-year career in politics and finally died as a causality of the Jan. 6 insurrection, which I spent barricaded in a Capitol Hill office with two members of Congress. A political system is truly broken when even an attempted coup by a violent mob isn’t enough to motivate our political leadership to put aside their differences for the sake of saving our democracy.

The failure of our elected officials in Washington, both Democratic and Republican, to pass HR 1, the For the People Act, a once in a generation sweeping voting rights and democracy reform bill, is a sad reflection of Washington’s inability to meet a moment of national crisis.

Amidst these setbacks and losses, it’s easy to lose hope for our democracy and become apathetic about our politics. For those seeking renewed motivation, I encourage you to turn off the partisan noise machine coming from your TV or computer and seek out opportunities to get involved in politics locally.

The candidate forum we attended never devolved into partisan purity tests or pointless venting about hot button national issues. Instead, we heard from two candidates about how they would address the affordable housing crisis, support local farmers navigating revelations that their land has been poisoned by PFAS, and end childhood hunger in the state. Voters heard about each candidate’s commitment to include local stakeholders in the decision making process, the importance of promoting good lines of communications, and their plans to keep constituents informed on their work in Augusta. In closing remarks, each candidate provided their personal phone number, so voters could continue these conversations, and a heartfelt pitch for a $5 contribution to help them qualify for Maine Clean Elections funding.

To borrow from the line chanted at so many of the political marches we attended in DC, “this is what democracy looks like.” Maine is a rare view into what Democracy should look like. Thank you, Maine and Lincoln County, for welcoming us back home and renewing our optimism and hope for a better politics.