If you believe everything you read, see or hear in the mainstream media today, you could be forgiven for thinking that the young adults of Generation Z are lock-step leftists. Consider, for instance, a report three years ago by the Pew Research Center:
“Gen Zers are progressive and pro-government, most see the country’s growing racial and ethnic diversity as a good thing, and they’re less likely than older generations to see the United States as superior to other nations.”
But when a young woman testified before the Maine legislature’s Committee on Educational and Cultural Affairs last month in support of one of her first bills as a state legislator, Rep. Reagan Paul (R-Winterport) didn’t fit this cookie-cutter profile at all.
Poised, visibly a little nervous, but confident nonetheless, Paul, 23, makes the case for why Maine high school students should learn about the U.S. and the Pine Tree State’s constitutions.
“Only 16% of my generation are proud to be Americans,” Paul told the panel, “and there’s a reason for that.”
Her bill, LD 222, would mandate teaching the constitutions – state and national – as a means of helping students better understand and appreciate the rights and responsibilities they have as Mainers and Americans. It seems like a modest and reasonable request, especially to those who’ve lazily assumed our schools still teach civics. Spoiler alert: they don’t.
According to a 2021 report by the Fordham Institute, Maine schools are falling behind when it comes to a basic education in civics. More current trends like critical race theory and Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) programming appear to have eclipsed what was once a bedrock component of American schools’ curriculum.
“Schools today are teaching children to feel rather than think,” Paul told The Maine Wire.
Standing before the education committee last month, she represented at least a generation’s gap between the rule-makers and those to whom the rules apply. In this respect, she is a welcome breath of fresh air.
Two generations ago, Maine had a perennial candidate named Plato Truman. He was always on the ballot and always came in a distant third, but he had a memorable slogan: ‘Plato Truman – two great names, one great candidate.’ The Biddeford man passed away in 2021, but in a way, Reagan Paul has vindicated his promise.
“Our children are under attack in a left-wing culture war we didn’t start and never wanted to fight,” Paul told the RSU 22 school board earlier this year. “We will not surrender this fight.”
She is referring to what she called the “hyper-sexualization of children” and controversial materials in school libraries across Maine that many have likened to pornography. The Maine Wire covered a recent debate in Windham schools involving parents irate at a book called “Gender Queer” and others that graphically depict sexual activity involving minors.
Not one to shy away from controversy, Paul has taken on a few others as well in her first several months as a state representative. She has introduced other bills create a voter identification system, allow individuals with conceal-carry firearms permits to be armed in schools, prohibit doctors from prescribing abortion via tele-health appointments, and authorizing the Public Utilities Commission to issue a Request for Proposals for small nuclear reactors.
“People tell me to avoid the controversial issues in order to get elected, and then re-elected, but I’m not doing this so I can serve my maximum number of terms,” she says, adding “I haven’t even decided yet if I’m running for re-election.”
Paul’s goal, she says, is to make a difference by standing up for her faith and conservative values. In flipping the House District 37 last fall, she defeated the progressive, Margaret English-Flanagan by nearly five points. She did it, she says, by knocking on over 4,000 doors.
“Honestly, when people came to the door and met me, a principled conservative, a lot of them were surprised, but I had people tell me they never vote Republican but would be supporting me,” she said.
Part of that may be the fact that Reagan Paul is a mold-breaker in a way. While she challenges the stereotype of Gen Zers as a left-leaning, aggrieved lot, she represents a different side of her generation that kindles a spark in the imaginations of those who feared her sort had been washed away by the times.
She worries about what she sees as a growing sense of despondency both generally, and with her peers. Last week, she wrote a moving post on Facebook about witnessing an attempted suicide outside Portland (the individual in question survived). When she got home, she co-sponsored a bill requested by the Town of Prospect to put a suicide barrier in the Penobscot Narrows Bridge from which at least a dozen souls leapt to their deaths since its opening less than twenty years ago.
“I’m just trying to make a difference,” Paul explains. For some who had questions about the moral bearings of the rising generation, she already has.