Local alumni profile: Henry Beck ’09 Waterville state representative

Senior year is an unforgettable time for any Colby student, but it was especially memorable for Henry Beck ’09 (D-Waterville), who ran a successful political campaign and was sworn into the Maine House of Representatives while still on campus. Though many seniors do their best to arrange a stress-free spring semester, Beck took as many 8 a.m. classes as possible so that he could also fulfill his State Representative duties at the State House in Augusta. “I would wear my suit to class, sit in the front row, and book out the door to get to a 10 a.m. session,” he said in an interview with The Colby Echo.

By 2009, however, Beck was already used to balancing many responsibilities, having occupied a spot on Waterville’s City Council since his freshman year at Colby. Soon after returning from his Colby Outdoor Orientation trip, Beck read in the newspaper that there was a vacancy on the City Council in the Waterville neighborhood where he had grown up, but no one wanted to run for the seat. “I thought, ‘Well, I know people there, and I grew up there,’ so I ran and I won,” he said. “That sort of made a splash on campus.” 

Beck’s experience on the City Council taught him a great deal about local politics and allowed him to connect with his neighborhood in a new way. Beck’s family has been in Waterville for three generations, and he is a graduate of Waterville High School. Now representing Waterville and parts of Oakland, Beck’s desire to better lives in his hometown remains at the core of his political career. “You can come into the legislature and talk about big picture, revolutionary things, or you can work on select issues that really effect people’s lives directly, and that’s the approach I took,” he said. Much of Beck’s work has dealt with financial issues and the Maine economy. He chairs the Joint Standing Committee on Insurance and Financial Services. “I really like the personal side [of politics],” he added, especially regarding constituent services and legislation that concretely improves people’s well being. Like many, he is eager to see Waterville recover from the economic stagnation that has swept central Maine in recent decades.

The College is poised to play a key role in the revitalization of the greater Waterville region, especially in terms of fostering relationships with new employers. In an event on campus this fall, the consulting firm Collaborative Consulting announced plans for a new delivery center in Waterville that will create 200 jobs ­— jobs that Waterville desperately needs. In a December 9 article from centralmaine.com, Beck was quoted as praising the project. “The most important thing we need is more anchor, large-scale employers like Collaborative Consulting, and we also have to support the businesses we already have here, whether they’re large or small,” he said.

Together with his devotion to Waterville, Beck’s ties to Colby make him a huge fan of the recent revitalization efforts revealed by the College. “No one’s more pleased than I am about it,” he said to The Echo. Beck went on to praise President of the college David A. Greene for his efforts in driving development downtown and strengthening the College’s relationship with the city.  “It’s a lesson that politics really can be driven by individual people. It’s been a team effort in town and on campus, but I attribute a lot of it really directly to him,” Beck said of Greene.

When asked what he considered Maine’s biggest challenge to be, Beck reiterated that the economy — and the availability of jobs — are of the utmost concern. “Waterville was a very different community 40 years ago, with regards to our population and wages and our middle class,” he said. “We don’t have a middle class like we used to.” There is work to be done at all levels of government to address this issue, but the legislature is most effective when there is cooperation from both sides of the aisle.

In a country where politics has become increasingly polarized, the Maine state legislature has not been immune to frequent clashes between Republicans and Democrats. However, Beck has tried to opt for a more thoughtful approach. Though a Democrat, he has worked with Republican peers to co-sponsor several pieces of bipartisan legislation during his tenure.  Some of Beck’s bi-partisan achievements include bills to support small businesses and promote economic growth. However, when asked about his proudest achievement in the legislature, Beck pointed to a law he sponsored and passed in 2013 that increased screenings for heart defects for infants in Maine. Also in the realm of health, in the last legislative session Beck passed a law that significantly expanded accessibility to the drug Narcan, which is used for the emergency treatment of opioid overdoses.

Beck credits Colby and the liberal arts experience with shaping his cooperative, bi-partisan attitude towards politics. “I really try to avoid some of the partisan battles and the partisan bickering, and that’s because I learned here you just have to think very deeply and listen to both sides of the issue,” he said. Colby’s small size facilitates close friendships, including those that are in many ways “bipartisan,” he continued. The Hill is home to individuals from all over the world, making it a uniquely global community within the region. Beck said that his undergraduate experience solidified his view that politicians should never resort to “othering” people with different views or understandings. “You shouldn’t get into politics and demean other people because of their background, whether it’s their race, or their religion, or their sexual orientation,” he said.

When asked if he had anything he wanted say to Colby students, he stressed the importance of “thinking globally, but also knowing about the world right of off Mayflower Hill.” While it can be overwhelming at times, the abundance of events and notable guests on campus present valuable opportunities for students to expand their viewpoints. “While you’re here, take advantage of everything you can,” he said. “At no other time in your life will you have that kind of exposure.”

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Henry Beck ’09, was elected to Maine House of Representatives as a senior at Colby.

In addition to his role as a state representative, Beck is an attorney at a Waterville law firm, having earned his degree from the University of Maine Law School. He plans to stay in politics, and looks ahead to a State Senate run in 2016.

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