November 11, 2012

Longtime 'king of the St. John Valley' deposed

Voters decide it's time for a change and oust John Martin from the Maine Legislature.

The St. John Valley reacts to the defeat of longtime legislative legend John Martin of Eagle Lake.

By Tom Bell tbell@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

EAGLE LAKE — When Derrick Ouellette, 19, was born, John Martin's hold on the St. John Valley was so firm that he had already served in the Maine Legislature for three decades.

click image to enlarge

John Martin

2005 File Photo/The Associated Press


• 1964 – First elected to the Maine House of Representatives.

• 1971 to 1974 – Serves as minority floor leader in the Maine House.

• 1975 to 1994 – Serves as speaker of the House.

• 1992 – A ballot-tampering scandal implicates an aide to Martin. Although there was no proof that Martin was involved, many voters speculated that he must have ordered the tampering because he was so powerful.

• 1993 – Maine voters pass term limits.

• 1996 – Term limits force Martin to give up his House seat for one term.

• 1998 – Martin defeats the incumbent Republican to win back his seat in the Maine House.

• 2000 to 2008 – Martin serves in the Maine Senate.

• 2008 to 2012 – Martin serves in the Maine House.

Last Tuesday, casting a ballot in his first election, Ouellette joined the majority of voters in House District 1 in removing Martin from office.

"He's been king of the St. John Valley," said Ouellette, who works as a desk clerk at a Fort Kent hotel. "People decided enough of that."

And so, on a day when Republicans across the state suffered big losses, voters in Aroostook County ended the 48-year political career of one of the state's most powerful Democrats.

While some here are celebrating, others are nervously imagining the future of this remote corner of the state without a master politician like Martin fighting on its behalf.

No lawmaker in Augusta could match Martin for experience and policy savvy, said Marc Chasse, 74, a retired chiropractor in Fort Kent.

He said lawmakers to the south have long resented the way Martin used his power to bring money and jobs to the region.

He noted that Martin worked to protect the University of Maine Fort Kent from closing, upgrade Route 11 and support Northern Maine General, a social service agency in Eagle Lake, Martin's hometown.

"Eagle Lake would have been a ghost town without him," he said.

Lucien Dube, 79, of Eagle Lake, said he was astounded when he learned about Martin's defeat.

"When a man does a good job, you usually keep him," he said.

The news of Martin's loss was stunning, both around the state and here in Eagle Lake. Martin, 71, has served in the Legislature since 1964, the year President Lyndon Johnson declared a "war on poverty" and the Beatles made their first appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show."

Maine's term limits law, enacted by a popular referendum in 1993 partly as a response to Martin's 19-year tenure as speaker of the House, has made his political stamina even more impressive.

Term limits restrict legislators to four consecutive two-year terms. But Martin remained in office by alternating between the House and Senate.

Martin's Republican opponent, Mike Nadeau, a political neophyte from Fort Kent, beat him 2,142 votes to 1,854. Nadeau won the majority of votes in the towns of Allagash, Ashland, Fort Kent and Wallagrass. He even beat Martin in Eagle Lake, 248 to 179. Martin won in only one town, St. Francis.

The upset is even more bewildering considering the region has far more registered Democrats than Republicans. In Eagle Lake, for example, more than half of the town's 609 voters are Democrats, while only 85 are Republicans.

Residents in the St. John Valley are predominantly Franco-American Catholics. While most are Democrats, they're socially conservative and have become alienated by the Democratic Party's support of legalized abortion and gay marriage, Republican leaders say. They say Question 1, which legalized same-sex marriage, helped bring more conservatives to the polls and thus defeat Martin. Aroostook Country voted by a 2-1 ratio against Question 1 last Tuesday.

"The Democratic Party is not the party it used to be," said Camille Bernier Jr., 74, who heads the Republican Party Committee in Frenchville and campaigned for Nadeau. He said he left the Democratic Party 10 years ago because of its stance on social issues. "Same-sex marriage is eroding everything we believe in."


Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, a 12-year incumbent who won re-election Tuesday by a narrow margin -- 51 percent to 49 percent -- said he doesn't believe Question 1 had an impact. Rather, he believes Republicans campaigned more aggressively this year and spent more money than they had in the past.

(Continued on page 2)

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