Mattie Daughtry wants young women’s voices to be heard
State Rep. Mattie Daughtry, D-Brunswick, has simple advice for young women considering entering politics: “Do it. Just run.” If you’re anything like her, you just might win.
In 2012, Daughtry was elected to represent her hometown of Brunswick in the Maine House of Representatives. She was 25 and, at the time, the youngest woman in the Maine Legislature. “It’s definitely not what I thought I’d be doing when I turned 25,” Daughtry laughs. She graduated from Smith College in 2009 with a degree in studio arts, a passion for photography and a love for all things Julia Child. These days, she has her own photography business (Matthea Daughtry Media), an upcoming Brunswick-based brewery (Moderation Brewing), and a passion for whipping up her favorite Child recipes (crêpes suzette, in particular). Well, all that plus a thriving political career in Augusta.
“I always thought I’d want to get involved in politics, but at a later age. I didn’t think it was something available to someone in their early 20s,” she says. “When the seat became available, I just realized there was so much at stake. I was passionate not only about my hometown but also about Maine and wanting to make a difference. It was the perfect time.”
“Everyone has some piece of policy they’re passionate about or a life experience they can bring to the table no one else will.”
Daughtry’s political career officially began in 2012, but her political activism began long before her name appeared on a ballot. “Every election since I can remember, my parents would have me volunteering and doing voter registration,” she says. “I had a lot of really amazing women (and men) around me from an early age who got me passionate about politics and social justice.” One of those women is Daughtry’s godmother, who served as a state representative in Daughtry’s youth.
She became familiar with the ins and outs of the State House before her appointment, first as a page for her godmother and again just before her election. “I worked for an organization called Maine’s Majority that did a lot of work on Maine politics,” she says. “I had been up recently in the State House doing legislative research and following bills.” Once she was elected, “I thought, ‘Oh, I’m familiar with the building, that will help lessen the learning curve.’”
Did it? Daughtry laughs. “Nothing can really compare to when you first get elected,” she says. “Some of my colleagues described it as being put in front of a fire hydrant as they open it with just how much is coming at you.” However, the pressure didn’t deter Daughtry. In keeping with her character, she embraced the chaos. “That’s one of the reasons I wanted to do it. I’m a lifelong learner. I’m always curious. But even thinking I was prepared…you’re never truly prepared for everything that goes along with this.”
To ease her transition, many of her colleagues and role models rallied around her. “When I announced my campaign, the amazing women who’ve run at an early age, like Emily Cain, Hannah Pingree and even Olympia Snowe, were all really supportive,” she says. And now, at age 30, Daughtry wants to empower young female politicians in that same way.
“Maine actually has a really nice tradition of younger reps, but the catch is we don’t have many young women. Right now, there are only two of us in the Legislature.” Maggie O’Neil of Saco finally usurped Daughtry’s title of youngest representative in 2016, “which I was very glad about, but there should be more,” she says.
Beyond her education policy work (she’s an active member of the Joint Standing Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs), Daughtry devotes her time to encouraging other young women to join her in politics, often by going straight to the schools. “I’ll ask the students, ‘Who wants to run for office?’ When the young girls raise their hands, I say to them: ‘Don’t lose that dream. Make sure you don’t lose that dream,’ ” she says. “We need more young women.”
The proof is in the numbers: according to legislature.maine.gov, just 34.4 percent of Maine legislators are women, and a minute percentage are 30 or younger. Daughtry wants young women’s voices to be heard, whether it’s as congresswomen, state representatives, city councilors or school committee members. “Everyone has something to offer,” she says. “Everyone has some piece of policy they’re passionate about or a life experience they can bring to the table no one else will.”
And, according to Daughtry, the first step is to “do it. Just run.”
Bailey O’Brien is a Portland-based freelance writer and editor. In her spare time, she can be found in tiny bookstores, on top of mountains or beside the ocean.