The oldest state in the nation has just elected its youngest leader yet. He is set to face some tough challenges as Maine's revenue streams dry up owing to the pandemic.
At 28 years old, Ryan Fecteau is the youngest House Speaker in the modern history of the United States, CNN reports. It is interesting to note that Maine, the oldest state in the nation, on Wednesday elected the country's youngest House Speaker. Fecteau was elected by his House colleagues in Augusta, and according to Maine's House Clerk and the National Conference of State Legislatures, is the first out gay person in the Maine Legislature's most powerful role. His rise in the swing state has been described as a "bright spot" for Democrats, who have struggled in state legislative races across the country this past election cycle.
Though Fecteau is the youngest House Speaker, his political savvy has been praised for its sense of maturity. Prior to officially making his bid for Speaker, he either met with, telephoned, or Zoomed each of his 79 Democratic colleagues during election season. He even traveled north along the sea coast to districts near the Canadian border. Former GOP Senator Joyce Maker of Calais keenly followed his travels via Facebook. He shared, "I noticed that this past year, he's traveled all over the state of Maine. I didn't quite get it when I first saw it. I don't think in my time in the legislature I saw someone that wanted to be a leader do that."
While the newly-elected House Speaker is evidently deeply committed to political action, he believes his career trajectory would not have been possible without Maine's term limits. Six years ago, he won a House seat from his native Biddeford in 2014, when he was only 22 years old. Unlike other states in the country, Maine's citizen legislature has term limits that cap service at four two-year terms in both the House and Senate. Fecteau claims this gave him a way to get his foot in the door despite his lack of seniority. After all, at the time, he had only just graduated from The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC, studying political science, theology, and religious studies.
Fecteau made a quick ascension to House chair of the joint committee in his second term, serving alongside a Republican Senate committee chair. Then, he was appointed Assistant Majority Leader by former House Speaker Sara Gideon. He was just 26 when he was made responsible for whipping votes and helping newly elected colleagues navigate Maine's part-time legislature. "I think with term limits, it's one of the funny things that result," he shared. "Someone at 26 can be a more seasoned legislator than someone who is in their 50s or 60s or 70s." When Gideon hit her own term limit this year, she left an opening for Fecteau to replace her.
Now, the youngest House speaker is set to face some serious challenges. Maine's constitution requires a balanced state budget every year, regardless of the circumstances. As pandemic dries up the state's revenue streams, Fecteau will find himself in a tough spot. "It's going to be miserable," said former Democratic state Representative Anne-Marie Mastraccio. "We're at a point where his experience on the labor committee, his experience as assistant leader, working with a really good speaker of the house for four years, I think he will know how to lead people through this horrible time that we aren't done with. He is the best person for that job right now."