Brunswick attorney and former Democratic Speaker of the House John Richardson is being remembered as a skilled and thoughtful politician and advocate for workers, who wasn't afraid to reach across the aisle during a contentious time at the State House. Richardson died of an apparent heart attack Tuesday at the age of 62.
Democratic Gov. Janet Mills was early in her career as a member of the House of Representatives in 2005 when Richardson was elected Speaker. He named her to the budget writing Appropriations Committee and worked with her on a number of major issues, including elimination of a $1 billion budget deficit. Mills says Richardson's skill as a negotiator was impressive as he worked to pass legislation while the House was evenly split between the two major parties.
“At one point the House was virtually tied…tied. And he had to really negotiate hard and in which he demonstrated his negotiating skills that were just way above par.”
Mills says Richardson could be partisan and strongly support the Democrats' position on some key labor issues like retirement benefits for first responders. But, Mills says, his strong advocacy did not stop him from making friends of all political persuasions.
“He was the king of fraternization in a sense. He was very adept at people, finding common interest with other people.”
And U.S. Sen. Susan Collins said Richardson's legacy includes work as a consensus builder.
“In this day and age of vitriol, divisiveness and polarization, everyone in public life could learn a lot from the approach John Richardson took,” Collins said.
In addition to serving as Speaker of the House, Richardson was appointed Commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development during the Baldacci Administration. Former Democratic Gov. John Baldacci said he was a "dedicated public servant" and "thoughtful political commentator whose wit and wisdom will be missed."
Attorney and former Republican State Rep. Josh Tardy served as the House Minority Leader while Richardson was speaker. Tardy says Richardson could fight hard and even use harsh language in debate. But they were still friends.
“We could fight politically and then actually get together for a debrief at night in a social setting and laugh about it. You wish there were more of that in politics nowadays.”
Richardson sought the party nomination for governor in 2010. He is survived by his wife, Dr. Stephanie Grohs, and three adult children.
Willis Ryder Arnold contributed to this report.