A Conversation with Colby Republicans

Two members of the Colby Republicans sat down with the Echo to discuss their perspectives, hopes, thoughts, and anxieties about former governor Paul LePage’s visit to campus, as well as the club’s plans for the future.

Meredith Allen `21 of Dover, Massachusetts, is studying economics and data science. On campus she is the co-president of Colby Republicans, an officer and choreographer for Colby Dancers, on the leadership board of the Goldfarb student engagement committee, and a CCAK mentor. When asked what she wants to do after Colby, she shakes her head sheepishly. “Something…in business,” she said. “Don’t really know.”

Her fellow Colby Republican and close friend, Ellie Harlan `21 is from Westwood Massachusetts. On campus she is the secretary of the Colby Republicans, is also on the Goldfarb student engagement committee, in the intervarsity Christian fellowship, and in Colby Dancers. She’s a government major, and she wants to go into the state department in some capacity, “preferably in the Middle East,” she said. She’s taking Arabic and studying Middle Eastern politics.

The members of the Colby Republicans go to a meeting in Augusta every month with the Maine State Republicans, a meeting LePage attends frequently. It was here that LePage offered to visit college campuses and share his experiences; he personally approached the Colby Republicans faculty advisor, Professor Dave Findlay, and offered to come speak at Colby—at no cost to the College.

“When Findlay told us about their [Findlay and LePage’s] conversation we then extended an invitation to him, given that he was willing to come for free and share his experiences with us,” Allen said. 

Allen and Harlan both agreed that this was slightly unusual, but free is free, and it was an opportunity. “We don’t often get a chance to connect with a lot of higher profile figures in the state. We’re a small club,” Harlan said.

During the talk, LePage introduced himself and told his story. “A lot of people aren’t aware [of his story],” Allen noted. LePage discussed several issues. He only spoke for about twenty minutes, and then opened the floor for questions from the audience. Apparently, this was somewhat by design. 

“He really wanted it to be mostly question and answer,” Allen relayed. “Which we thought was a really good idea,” Allen smiled, “because we weren’t giving him a place to just[…]spew[…]anything,” she says. “We really wanted it to be targeted at what students wanted to hear from him and give them the opportunity to challenge him on things that he’s done and said.”

“I think it went well,” Harlan explained. Many students and faculty asked questions, and a number of local Mainers who attended the event were able to voice their questions as well. “As a club we wanted to have a dialogue. We wanted to create a space where we could invite a conservative speaker and allow[…]that back and forth I don’t think we see a lot on campus,” Harlan stated. “And in that way I think we got what we wanted out of it.” LePage also stayed after his speech to talk to students individually, remaining much longer than his allotted speaking time, seemingly enthused about talking to students.

Allen and Harlan had to learn a lot along the way, particularly about the process of bringing in a very high-profile speaker. “We learned a lot[…]about allowing both sides to express their feelings about it,” Allen said. The Colby administration was supportive of this, and worked with the republicans to create standards for the event, and guidelines for what to do “if anything happened,” Allen said. “I think it’s progress such that we could bring more speakers in the future, whether they’re controversial in the same way…or…not,” Allen laughed, “which might be preferable.” There were laughs all around at that. “But I do think most Republicans would face some controversy on campus.”

When asked, with an amount of preemptive disbelief, if they agreed with all of LePage’s views, Harlan responded quickly: “absolutely not.” 

They did provide some defense for his invitation. “We shouldn’t have to justify bringing him more than him being governor for eight years,” Allen opined. “His comments don’t delegitimize what he did. He should still have a platform to share what he did, and we weren’t giving him a platform to share what we don’t endorse.”

“I think he did a lot of good for the state, and what he’s said should not preclude him from being able to speak to his experience in politics and his ideas for how Maine can be better,” Harlan added. “But I think because of what he has said that was why we wanted to have the opportunity for students to challenge him. I think they should, he’s said some really…” Harlan trailed off, but the point was made.

When asked if LePage is racist, Harlan said “I don’t know his heart.”

When asked about how LePage’s comments, particularly surrounding race, could threaten the identities of students on campus, and what they thought of the idea that LePage shouldn’t be given any platform to speak at all, Harlan said, “We didn’t want to give him an opportunity to say anything [that would threaten anyone].”

“We were really concerned about that,” Allen shared. When asked about giving LePage a platform for hate speech, both reply “absolutely not.”

“We told him, ‘we would like you to talk about the economy, your background, your experience in politics,’ and we were very clear with him in the many correspondences that we had what the parameters were. We didn’t want students in the audience to feel…to hear him say something that would be hurtful.”

In addition to concerns about hurtful comments, the two republicans had some thoughts about the wider political world.

“You should be prepared to interact with people of all different kinds,” Allen asserted. “The world is not a safe space.”