AUGUSTA — Darek Grant’s interest in politics stretches back to childhood, when he would enjoy watching Augusta City Council meetings and reading books about presidents.
He still has the certificate he earned as an honorary page in the Maine House in 1993, when he was in middle school. He wanted to be at the State House every day and even in college he couldn’t imagine working anywhere else.
“I was instantly fascinated with the way it worked in this building,” he said. “I wanted to be an honorary page every day.”
When the Senate convenes Tuesday, Grant, 31, will be in the front of the chamber to begin his time as Senate secretary.
The job is much more than it sounds. He’ll be the chief parliamentarian, the person who works closely with Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland, to control the flow of legislation, and the one who makes the call when there are procedural questions.
The Democrat, an Augusta City Council member, takes his Mason’s Manual with him to family gatherings to study up so he’s ready to handle what will come over the next two years.
“When I reflect back, being an honorary page as a kid, I always thought how cool it would be to be one of these top positions in the State House, in the Legislature,” he said. “It always gave me something to strive for, but I just never quite thought it would become a reality. Here I am now. It hasn’t quite sunk in.”
When Democrats took control of Senate in the November election, they earned the right to pick not only the Senate president, but the Senate secretary and assistant secretary.
Joy O’Brien, who served 27 years as secretary, opted for the assistant’s position this time, leaving an opening for Grant to step up. He’s grateful he’ll work closely with her to learn the nuances of the job, which also carries with it a duty to maintain decorum and an office with eight full-time staffers to oversee.
“It looks so easy and it’s not,” O’Brien said. “Sometimes you learn best in trial by fire. Really, that’s how I learned.”
She remembers hiring Grant as a chamber staffer when he was still a college student.
“He’s always been very dependable,” she said. “He’s smart. He’s a very hard worker. He loves his community. He has found a real home at the Legislature.”
Grant, a 1999 Cony High School graduate and Augusta school board member from 2004-2009, ran unopposed in November for a second term on the Augusta City Council.
While in college at the University of Southern Maine, Grant earned an internship at the State House working for Majority Leader Beverly Daggett, D-Augusta. When she became Senate president, he got a job working as a chamber staffer, a temporary session-only position he held for three years.
Then in 2004, he ran for the House, losing by 13 votes to Republican Kim Davis. He got another temporary job as a legislative aide to fill in when others were on sick leave or on maternity leave.
Finally, he landed a full-time job when Senate Majority Leader Libby Mitchell, D-Vassalboro, hired him as a legislative aide. He followed her to the Senate president’s office, where he continued to work as an aide. Then in 2010, he switched to the Senate minority office when the Democrats lost control of the chamber.
Grant, who is married with two children, is a Red Sox fan and dog lover. He has two yellow Labs, Trot and Wakefield, and his love of dogs makes the office he now occupies at the State House even more special. The door between his office and Alfond’s still has deep scratch marks from Gov. Percival Baxter’s dog Garry, along with a plaque noting the importance of the bond between man and man’s best friend.
Despite his interest in politics, Grant struggled as a teenager with public speaking. He forced himself to take a college public speaking class to overcome his fear. As Senate Secretary, Grant will speak publicly every day as part of the proceedings.
“As a kid in school, I was petrified of public speaking,” he said. “I would be sick on days that I had to give a presentation. I felt if I ever really want to pursue my dreams, I have to overcome this fear.”
His new job, which pays $83,532 a year, is for two years.
“The assistant secretary is the best person to learn it from, Joy,” he said. “She hired me as chamber staff. It’s kind of funny now we’re still working together.”
Susan Cover — 621-5643