Evelyn Swan, left, and Maggie Painter are Mount Desert Island High School alumnae, current college students and best friends. Both spent the past spring semester as interns in Washington, D.C., one for a natural gas company and one for Sen. Bernie Sanders. PHOTO COURTESY OF EVELYN SWAN

Young islanders take on Washington, D.C.

WASHINGTON, DC — In a year of intense political divisions, two college interns from Bar Harbor helped demonstrate that friendship can survive differences of political opinion and that solving the country’s problems is a job for everybody.

Evelyn Swan and Maggie Painter have been best friends since early childhood. They graduated from Mount Desert Island High School in 2014, and both helped propel the girls’ cross-country team to several state championships.

Swan is now a student at Thomas College, studying business. She interned for a Houston-based natural gas export company through a group called the Washington Center.

Painter is a student at Smith College in Massachusetts. She was an intern in the office of Sen. Bernie Sanders, one of the politicians who loomed largest in the 2016 presidential election by motivating a large left-leaning base. Rules of the internship prevented her from commenting directly for this story.

They shared an apartment near the Hill. Their families, also old friends, teased them a bit about how each might find herself protesting outside the other’s office.

“We would have these debates, trying to get to the bottom of how we both felt” about political and policy issues,” Swan said. “I wasn’t totally sold on any of my political beliefs before I went down there. I don’t want to form an opinion on something before I’m completely educated about it.”

The two agreed, for example, that human rights should never be violated and that early intervention for the mentally ill can prevent a lot of dangerous situations.

Swan pointed to the shooting at the congressional softball game, which happened after she returned home to Bar Harbor. “Better mental health care would be a good thing for people concerned about gun rights,” she said, “because that shooter was scared, he felt helpless, so he decided to go kill some people.”

She got the sense that members of Congress sometimes are expected to hate each other when they’re on camera, because people want them to. But often, the rest of the time, they’re like any other coworkers who eat and travel together and get to know each other’s families.

“Everyone is there because they’re passionate,” she said.

Swan and Painter often argued about the fossil fuel industry and climate change. They volunteered at the Climate March in April.

Some climate activists say society should swear off fossil fuels immediately, but Swan said the natural gas sector sees itself as a “bridge fuel” that’s cleaner than oil or coal and should be used while even cleaner technology is being developed and scaled up.

She said the company she worked for was one of many to issue a statement saying they hoped the U.S. would stay in the Paris climate agreement.

She enjoyed digging into the nitty-gritty of the policy she was assigned to work on: legislation about transportation, energy, trade policy and international development.

“I loved seeing how the policies affected my company – how real people are making money or losing money.”

She said the government shouldn’t be expected to shield businesses from risk, that business is always risky. “Companies change and adapt, innovate and make new things.”

She said millennials, having grown up amid such rapid change, are particularly well-suited to help institutions be more adaptive.

In business as well as civic life, Swan said, there’s much to be learned from honest debate.

“Don’t always focus on proving people wrong, and don’t put people down,” she said. “Try to learn.”


Liz Graves

Liz Graves

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Former Islander reporter and editor Liz Graves grew up in California and came to Maine as a schooner sailor.

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