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28-Year-Old Maine Democrat Poised To Become Youngest House Speaker In Nation

Mal Leary
Maine Public fil
Rep. Ryan Fecteau hugs Gov. Janet Mills in May 2019 after the state passed a ban on conversion therapy.

Democrats who will control the new Maine House have chosen Ryan Fecteau as their candidate for speaker. He’s destined to become the first openly gay legislator to hold that position and, at 28, the youngest speaker in the country.

Rep. Fecteau spoke with Morning Edition host Irwin Gratz about his candidacy.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Gratz: At 28, you clearly represent a new, younger generation. Do you bring a new or different governing philosophy to the position?

Fecteau: Young people are perhaps more engaged than ever before in the political process. I think they are disenchanted by what they’re seeing here in the United States and across the world. I don’t know if I bring a different style of governing, but I certainly bring an understanding of the issues that people in my generation are facing and the uncertainty that we face regarding our futures.

You have been in the Legislature for three terms already. So do you see the system as being able to tackle these problems?

I think so. I’ve served in various forms of state government now. I feel like I’ve almost experienced it all. I had the opportunity to serve with a Republican governor, had the opportunity to serve with the Republican Senate, now have had the opportunity to serve with Democrats in control of both chambers and a Democratic governor. And hopefully that will make me a better leader, but it will also allow us to come together and accomplish the things that our state faces in these uncertain and unprecedented times.

Well, it does raise one question. Usually, of course, the Legislature operates in the open. The gallery at the State House is often full. As you convene at the Augusta Civic Center, will there be that opportunity for people to come and observe your session in person, or is that something that needs to go by the boards because of the pandemic?

It’s probably unlikely that the public will be invited into the Civic Center. But there will be a stream available for folks to observe. We have 151 members in the House and 35 members in the Senate, and we come from all parts of the state. And for me, and I think for my colleagues, the importance to us is making sure when we return to our communities, whether it be after a single day of work, or a week’s worth of work in Augusta, that we do so in a way that makes sure that our communities are safe, that we’re not bringing the virus back to our individual communities.

So what will be the priorities for this session?

I think the No. 1 priority is making sure that Mainers who have been adversely impacted by this pandemic are given a shot to make sure that they can put food on the table for their families, that they can pay their mortgage, they can pay the rent.

But that’s going to be a real challenge is it not given the likely condition of the state’s finances because of the pandemic?

The budget will certainly be a challenge. I mean, we’ve been hugely impacted by the pandemic from a financial perspective. We will need to tackle and get our arms around that as well. But it cannot come at the expense of the most vulnerable in our communities, our neighbors. The financial impact of leaving those folks behind in the long term will be far greater than any momentary relief that we might feel by slashing away programs that make sure that the boats of those folks are staying afloat.

So if there isn’t sufficient federal help forthcoming, it might be possible that the state would have to look at raising various fees and taxes in order to continue to provide the support Mainers need.

My philosophy in life has been when I have extra money, when I have the ability to give, I would be the first to step up to the plate to help my neighbor who’s in need. I think that’s the philosophy of most Mainers. There are ways for state government to look at those who have continued to do well, maybe are doing better than they were a year ago. I think if you asked any Mainer, they would want the Legislature and they’d want those folks who are doing well to step up to the plate and help.

As you know, Republicans have had an issue with the governor regarding her various emergency orders during the course of the pandemic. They’ve been kind of itching for the Legislature to come in to do presumably something different. As the Legislature reconvenes, do you see any reason to have the Legislature make any changes to some of the procedures the governor has put in place?

Throughout the time the Legislature adjourned back in March, the communication from the executive branch to the Legislature I have felt has been very strong. I have not felt like you know, the perspective of the Legislature had gone unheard. Now the Legislature has a responsibility and a constitutional duty to convene, to be back in session, and thus will have the opportunity to put forward legislation and have a part in the response to the pandemic.