AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) - Maine’s longest-serving lawmaker is back for his 24th term in the Legislature.
John Martin, who once ruled the Statehouse with an iron fist, will be sworn in alongside 150 other newly elected House members next week. The Democrat was sidelined for the last two years after losing to a political newcomer in 2012.
But Martin, now 73, says it feels as though he never left.
The phone calls from former constituents in his remote northern town of Eagle Lake town kept coming. He frequently traveled to Augusta to train committee chairs. He wasn’t a stranger at Democratic caucus meetings.
“In many ways, I never really got out of it,” said Martin, who beat incumbent Republican Allen Nadeau in a rematch this year.
Now the man who has been called the “Earl of Eagle Lake” is gunning for a spot on the powerful budget-writing Appropriations Committee, where his expertise in legislative rules and procedures will make him one of the most influential lawmakers this session.
“It’s hard to find someone with his kind of parliamentary and legislative talent,” said Paul Mills, a lawyer and Maine political historian.
Martin became the nation’s youngest House speaker in 1975 at the age of 33 - a post he held for unprecedented 20 years. He was at the height of his power in the early ‘90s when a ballot-tampering scandal sent his top aide to jail and led to his decision to resign as speaker in 1994.
His critics claim he ruled as an authoritarian, employing strong-arm tactics to control his caucus and get his priorities passed.
“He used all the powers at his disposal to try to intimidate members to get them to behave the way he wanted to,” said Rick Bennett, chairman of the Maine Republican Party who served in the Legislature with Martin and was among those who called for him to vacate his speakership. “He just puts things forward and hopes that people won’t challenge him too much on it.”
When he takes the oath of office Wednesday, Martin will break the record for the most number of terms served in the House, which was previously held by Democrat Louis Jalbert of Lewiston, who left the Legislature in the ‘80s, Mills said. With an additional four terms in the Senate, Martin has already earned the title of longest-serving Maine lawmaker.
But that doesn’t interest Martin.
“I did it for service, not because I wanted to break someone’s record. I did it because I thought I could serve and be effective and helpful, not only to the people I represent but the entire state,” he said.
His command of the parliamentary process has allowed him to deliver money for projects, roads and health care to a rural and economically fragile part of the state.
And he quickly rebounded from his 2012 loss because he continued to use his contacts and influence to help Aroostook County even when he wasn’t an elected official, Democrats said.
“He continued to work for the people, and I think that’s why they sent him back here,” said Democratic Rep. Jeff McCabe of Skowhegan, who will serve as House majority leader this session.
Martin, a term-limit opponent, says one of his focuses this session will be to repeal them.
But term limits haven’t slowed him down. Like other lawmakers, he’s been able to get around them by switching between the House and Senate.
He also wants to make another push to overhaul the state’s mining regulations to facilitate mining operations in northern Maine.
What he isn’t so sure about is when he will finally decide to retire.
“I will probably some morning get up and say, ‘Well, it’s time for me to retire.’ But I would be bored in a hurry, I suspect.”
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