AUGUSTA — After 46 years in the Maine Legislature, Rep. John Martin was defeated for the first time on Election Day, prompting whispers in the State House of, "Will he be back?"
The immediate answer is yes; he'll be back Monday to take care of some legislative business. But will he run again? Martin says he never says never to anything.
After 23 terms, mostly in the House of Representatives he lorded over as speaker for an unprecedented 10 terms, the 71-year-old Martin lost on Tuesday to Republican Allen Nadeau of Fort Kent. Martin attributed his defeat to heavy spending by his political adversaries on negative and sometimes false advertising. Some just blamed voter fatigue.
"After a while, if you sling enough mud, some of it is going to stick," said Martin, who reckons the campaign to defeat him ran to $75,000.
"I probably save a few Democrats by having them spend all that money against me," Martin added.
The defeat of Martin, long a symbol of the State House power Republicans craved, was one of the few bright spots for the GOP in the election.
By almost anyone's estimation, he's a master parliamentarian, a state budget expert who served on the Appropriations Committee, a superwonk on the minutiae of state government and a skilled political gamesman.
Martin amassed much of his clout through his knowledge of the process and intelligence, said Paul Mills, a Farmington attorney and Maine political historian.
"Knowledge is power," said Mills.
Within a couple of days of his defeat, Martin said, he'd received 20 to 30 offers of other jobs. He said he turned down a lobbying offer.
He was also urged to run for the legislatively elected state auditor's post. The incumbent, fellow Democrat Neria Douglass, hit her eight-year term limit in that post. "No to that," said Martin.
But in a phone interview, Martin left the impression he would remain familiar around the building in which he's an institution himself.
"I don't intend to stop working on issues I strongly believe in," said Martin. "The last thing I want to see is the state in a mess."
Martin had a lot of behind-the-scenes influence, and knew how to give other people credit. His skills were all built upon a political career in which his party was well in the minority.
"He was in the wilderness a long time, he knew what it was like to toil in that," said Mills.
His decades in the State House started when he was a wide-eyed 23-year-old from the remote northern Maine town of Eagle Lake. In the view of his many critics, he amassed too much power during the height of his prominence in the 1990s, a view that gave momentum to the popular initiative to impose term limits.
It's that law that led to the only hiatus in Martin's legislative career, 1997-98. But he came back and later got around the law as other lawmakers do by simply switching chambers and being elected to the Senate.
Whether Martin comes back and when are anyone's guess. But he'll have plenty to occupy his time while he's away from Augusta.
"As a relative told me, now you can take care of your own stuff instead of everyone else's," said Martin. "The midnight calls will be less, and the calls from constituents, I refer them to their state representative."
Besides teaching political science and government at the University of Maine at Fort Kent, Martin serves on local boards including a nonprofit that operates nursing homes in Eagle Lake and St. Francis.