Thornton Academy senior works toward political future

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State Representative Justin Chenette, Porter Washington, and Thornton Academy teacher, Colin Kolmar announce the formation of a new Political Action Group at the school. The group, not affiliated with any political party, will provide students with a forum, in a bipartisan way, for discussing and discovering political involvement opportunities for Maine’s young adults. (Courtesy Photo)

 

SACO – Most high school seniors spend their final fall semester in school worrying about their favorite team, friends and what they are going to do when their high school years come to an end.

Porter Washington, an 18-year-old senior at Thornton Academy, did think about these things, but during the fall semester of his senior year, he focused almost exclusively on the first Tuesday in November. He worried about the upcoming gubernatorial election and making sure Mike Michaud became the next governor of the state and that other Democratic candidates were successful.

The election didn’t go the way he hoped, but Washington may have found his true passion in life, a passion that may lead him to Augusta and beyond.

“This past year has been the best. It’s a lot of work, but it’s the best thing I’ve ever done,” Washington said.

Washington’s involvement in political and social causes started when he became an intern for state Rep. Justin Chenette. Working with Chenette and the Maine Democratic Party, Washington saw firsthand the importance and significance of working in one’s community and the impact one person can have.

“We worked on everything from getting more food for the local food pantries and shelters to getting heating assistance for the elderly,” he said.

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Porter Washington working his way through his senior year at Thornton Academy. (Photo by David Arenstam)

When Washington learned that his school had a social action team (TAActionTeam.org), a group of students dedicated to volunteering in the community, he joined the group and became one of the student leaders.

“We meet every month and try to go to events and places in the Saco area,” Washington said. “We volunteered to help at the Hazelton House this fall and helped with dinner and bingo.”

The Hazelton house is a 35-unit assisted living facility for senior citizens in Saco. It is named after Paul Hazelton, a Thornton Academy trustee and alumnus.

As he became more involved in social causes in his community, the more Washington wanted to work with the state’s Democratic Party.

Chenette recognized this drive and passion, and suggested that Washington join the local chapter of Maine High School Democrats. Washington immediately said yes and eventually became one of the regional leaders.

After taking a number of programming and technology classes in school, Washington took the lead and helped organize and develop websites and social media platforms for both the TA Action group and Maine High School Democrats.

“It’s fun and it’s work, but it gets our message out,” Washington said.

As the fall elections got closer, Washington found himself working more in the Biddeford office for the Democratic Party. He worked on the campaign for state Sen. Linda Valentino and Chenette in addition to Michaud’s bid to become governor.

Porter Washington campaigning with Rep. Mike Michaud. (courtesy photo)

Porter Washington campaigning with Rep. Mike Michaud. (courtesy photo)

“It’s great to see Porter step up and care about the decisions that are being made today. Porter can make a difference, and young people can have a seat at the table. He knows that,” Valentino said.

“It seemed like there was always a campaign event to attend or organize,” Washington added. “We worked the phone, we tried to get out the vote, we tried to inform people about the candidates.”

What may have been one of the most significant events happened just days before the final votes were cast. On Oct. 30, President Obama came to a campaign event in Portland and spoke to 3,000 people in support of Michaud and other Democratic candidates, for which Washington worked as part of the security crew.

“I was outside initially and worked the crowd,” he said. “But after the president spoke, I shook his hand on the way out.”

After the election, and it was clear that Rep. Michaud was not going to be the next governor, Democrats and Republicans alike recognized Washington for his efforts in the election and his dedication to the political process. He was invited to dinner at the Blaine house with Gov. Paul LePage.

“It was an honor, but we don’t see eye-to-eye on many things,” he said. “I was happy to be invited, but I didn’t have much to say.”

Washington knows that whatever he does in the future, he wants to be involved in politics in some way.

“I want to study political science in college, but I’m not sure if it will be at (the University of) Southern Maine or Orono,” he said. “Who knows, maybe in 10 years or so, I might be running for the state Legislature myself.”

David Arenstam

About David Arenstam

Originally from away, but here to stay - Maine is my home and I love writing stories about the people and places from my end of the state. I am a teacher and writer and my first novel, "Homecoming: A Soldier's Story of Loyalty, Courage, and Redemption" is available now at www.BrysonTaylorPublishing.com