Weak Job Market Forces Maine Legislator to Leave the State

Larry Bliss couldn’t find work in his home state of Maine so, like many unemployed, he broadened his search and located a job elsewhere in the country. Unlike most unemployed, however, Bliss had “state legislator” listed on his resume as his current title during his entire 16-month job hunt.

A Democratic member of the House of Representatives and then the Senate, Bliss was laid off from his position as an administrator at the University of Southern Maine in late 2009 after two decades with the school. Maine legislators work only part-time, collecting about $13,000 a year for their service, leaving Bliss raising three children on only his partner’s full-time work as a low-income housing consultant.

“It’s certainly not an easy decision,” Bliss told TPM. “I really wanted to stay. My partner and I love it here and Maine is a very special place.”Bliss tried for months to find administrative work in academia or at a non-profit within Maine, but jobs were “few and far between.” In the meantime, he devoted more time to his government work, becoming a “full-time legislator” and enjoying the job more than ever. But after more than a year without success finding work, he relented and expanded his search outside the state, quickly scoring an offer at a university in his old home state of California. Bliss, who shares custody of his children, said that his kids will remain behind with their mother until the end of the school year before they can work out a more permanent arrangement.

Since announcing his resignation, he has received a wave of e-mails from his constituents expressing their support and opening up about their own troubles finding a job and the tough choices they’ve made to make ends meet. He said he was surprised by how many “bittersweet messages” he received given that he represents a relatively affluent suburb of Portland that is typically not considered as economically troubled as other parts of the state.

“The irony is both sides of the aisle are all talking about the need to move forward with economic development to create jobs,” he said. “It’s frustrating to admit that we as a state have so failed our citizens that I have to leave to find a job. It’s a sad comment on how the legislature works.”