While Maine Democrats were busy Tuesday winning back the House and Senate majorities they lost in 2010, the party’s longest-serving lawmaker found himself in an unfamiliar role: Election Day loser.
Throughout his 46-year political career, Democrat John Martin of Eagle Lake had won every time he was on the ballot.
“That happens when you run for office,” Martin, 71, said Wednesday. “I can’t say I’m happy, but I always said I didn’t believe in term limits. When the voters want to get rid of me, they can.”
This year, voters in Aroostook County’s sprawling House District 1 chose a small-business owner and political neophyte, Allen “Mike” Nadeau, to replace Martin. The vote was 2,142 to 1,854.
Nadeau said Wednesday that he’s a fiscal and social conservative but doesn’t follow the Republican Party’s platform.
Maine Republican Party Chairman Charlie Webster, who recruited Nadeau to run against Martin, said the vote had less to do with Martin and more to do with Nadeau.
“Under normal circumstances, if you recruit the right candidate, you win,” Webster said. “Everyone said (Nadeau) would be a perfect candidate.”
That was a change from some past elections, when Republicans didn’t even bother running a candidate against Martin.
Democrat Emily Cain of Orono, the outgoing House minority leader who won a Senate seat Tuesday, said it became clear in the last few weeks that Republicans were determined to oust Martin this year.
“His loss is proof that Republicans ran on politics of personal destruction,” she said.
While Republicans were targeting specific incumbents like Martin, Democrats were winning big across the board, Cain said.
Martin said that’s the hardest part of his loss: He won’t get to be in the majority again.
“I have some relatives who will say, ‘Now you can do your own stuff rather than focus on others,’ he said. “But I’ve spent my career helping people.”
Martin’s reign as speaker of the House from 1975 to 1994 is the stuff of legend. It was largely because of his power that Maine enacted legislative term limits.
He found a way around those limits by jumping to the Senate for four terms and then, when his time there was done, jumping back to the House. Now many lawmakers do the same thing to stay in politics.
While Martin didn’t have the title of a legislative leader in recent years, he remained the Democrat most revered by members of his party and reviled by opponents. And even Republicans respected Martin for his unmatched knowledge of parliamentary procedure.
Rep. Kenneth Fredette, a Republican from Newport who won re-election Tuesday, sought out Martin when he was a freshman lawmaker two years ago. They served on the powerful Appropriations Committee together.
“He was willing to teach young legislators about the process, regardless of party,” Fredette said. “But there were times when John got his ire up and could be vocal. … That was just his style.”
Martin is a throwback politician. He’s not shy about getting into the mud, or slinging it. His career is filled with stories — some substantiated, some folklore — of political wrangling.
He once demoted a co-chairman of the Legislature’s Taxation Committee in the middle of a session as political payback. One of his campaign aides in the 1990s was convicted of ballot tampering, but even that didn’t derail Martin’s career.
Despite his history of controversy, Martin was considered a bridge builder. He had victories, notably in passing legislation that created the Land Use Regulation Commission and in ensuring that House committee members had the same power as their Senate counterparts.
Kenneth Palmer, a political scientist at the University of Maine, said Martin’s legislative record is unrivaled in state history.
“Controversy followed him, but I think he raised the power of the Legislature,” Palmer said.
Martin also has been a talent evaluator for the Maine Democratic Party.
He mentored U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud when Michaud was in the Legislature. He helped groom Pat McGowan and Libby Mitchell, both of whom ran for governor in 2010, and more recently he has been a confidant of Sen. Troy Jackson of Allagash.
Above all, Martin knew how to represent his constituents in Aroostook County.
“There were always reports Eagle Lake has the nicest roads around and he’s gotten projects approved there that a lot of other lawmakers would like to have in their district,” said Doug Hodgkin, a retired Bates College political scientist. “That helps you get re-elected.”
Republican Andre Cushing of Hampden, the outgoing assistant House majority leader, who, like Cain, was elected to the Senate on Tuesday, said it was only a matter of time before Martin was defeated.
“That’s no disrespect to him; he has always represented his district well,” Cushing said. “But I think the Democratic Party of the 1970s and 1980s, when he was speaker, is not the same as the Democratic Party of today. I think some St. John Valley residents might feel like the party has drifted.”
Martin said Cushing’s political action committee, Respect Maine, spent heavily on negative campaign ads against him. Cushing said the PAC did focus on that race, but not exclusively.
“It will be strange not to see him in Augusta come January,” Cushing said. “But he stayed longer than perhaps was wise.”
It may be too early to talk about Martin’s legacy.
“I suspect we’ve not seen the last of him,” Fredette said.
When asked about his future plans, Martin demurred.
But, he said, “I don’t intend to stay home and do nothing.”
Staff Writer Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at: