AUGUSTA, Maine — Any way you cut it, it’s the end of an era.
Rep. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake, one of the most enduring and storied politicians in Maine history, lost his bid to return to the Legislature on Tuesday. According to unofficial election results compiled by the Bangor Daily News, Martin earned just 1,854 votes, compared with 2,132 votes for Republican Allen Michael Nadeau.
Martin, in a brief interview with the Bangor Daily News early Wednesday, blamed outside money in his race for his loss. On Monday, the Maine Ethics Commission voted unanimously that Nadeau, Martin’s challenger, violated Maine election law when Nadeau’s treasurer spent money on Nadeau’s behalf through an outside group.
Nadeau, whose candidacy was supported by the Maine Clean Election Act, is prohibited from accepting contributions. Nadeau declined to comment on his win over Martin early Wednesday morning, but Martin said the expenditure issue was a factor in the outcome.
“So much money was spent. If you throw enough mud around, some of it’s going to stick,” said Martin. “I think money has now infiltrated legislative races to the point where money will be buying legislative seats. I’m really not surprised by all of this.”
Martin, who was born, raised and educated in Maine, was first elected to the Maine House of Representatives in 1964. He went on to serve as speaker of the House for an unprecedented 10 terms. Martin also served in the Maine Senate from 2000-2008 before returning to his seat in the House, representing the Aroostook County towns of Allagash, Ashland, Eagle Lake, Fort Kent, St. Francis and Wallagrass, the plantations of Garfield, Nashville, St. John and Winterville, plus the unorganized territory of Northwest Aroostook.
Over the years, Martin has solidified his position as a career politician in Maine and beyond. In addition to his tenure in the Maine Legislature, he has served in numerous positions with the National Conference of State Legislatures, the Foundation for State Legislatures, the Democratic State Legislative Leaders Association and the National Democratic Committee.
In the most recent Legislative session, Martin was the ranking House Democrat on the powerful Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee, where he was often consulted by legislators of both parties for his institutional knowledge on all manner of issues. In many instances, Martin has not hesitated to wield his considerable influence when he deemed fit, according to a book called Maine Politics and Government, by Kenneth T. Palmer, G. Thomas Taylor and Marcus A. Librizzi.
“In one celebrated instance, the speaker removed the chair of the Taxation Committee in midsession when the legislator’s handling of an important tax measure provoked his ire,” wrote the authors. “The legislator, who had represented a Portland district for several terms, did not run for reelection.”
Martin was a driving force behind developing the Legislature’s current system of having co-chairpersons of its committees. Later, in 1986, Martin was a driving force behind a political furor that at the time was coined the “payrolls vs. pickerel” conflict, which involved the Big A Dam, a proposal for a hydroelectric project by Great Northern Paper Co. on a branch of the Penobscot River.
Martin is also well-known in connection with a scandal called Ballotgate in 1992, when one of his aides, Ken Allen, pleaded guilty to two counts of burglary and ballot tampering in connection with two closely contested elections for the Maine House. This event helped propel legislative term limits, at the time a nationwide movement, in Maine.
At that time Martin, who has been called by some “The Earl of Eagle Lake,” had served as the House speaker for nearly two decades and was considered by some to be a controversial representative, according to a 2004 report by the National Conference of State Legislatures, the Council of State Governments and the State Legislative Leaders’ Foundation, titled “First in the Nation: Term Limits and the Maine Legislature.”
“Many observers of Maine politics believe that a desire to remove Martin from office was a primary motivation of those supporting term limits,” reads the report. “Citizen support for terms limits was not the result of a single factor, but during the campaign over the term limits referendum, Martin became the ‘poster child’ for the term limits movement in Maine.”
Term limits that restrict legislators to four consecutive two-year terms in office were enacted in Maine, but Martin has remained in office by alternating between the House and Senate.
Martin is also is known to work diligently behind the scenes to recruit and encourage Democrats to run for office. He helped recruit Pat McGowan — who would later run for governor in the 2010 Democratic primary — to run for Congress; and future Senate president and 2010 gubernatorial candidate Libby Mitchell to run for the U.S. Senate in 1984. He was also a close ally to Maine political titans Ed Muskie and George Mitchell.
David Sorensen, a spokesman for the Maine Republican Party, told the Bangor Daily News early Wednesday that Martin’s ouster was inevitable.
“This whole night has been full of anomalies, but this is one upset that was bound to happen after decades of Democratic rule in the Eagle Lake region,” said Sorensen. “Us winning in John Martin’s district shows there’s a lot of discontent with Democrats that a lot of people didn’t see. Defeating John Martin is a major event in Maine history. he represented a brand of politics that Mainers rejected.”
Maine Democratic Party Chairman Ben Grant called Martin’s failed campaign “a tough loss.”
“It shows that any race can be won and any race can be lost,” said Grant. “We will try to learn from it.”