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Ryan Fecteau puts down the speaker's gavel, looks to the future

“I feel like I did my part, and now it's time to let someone else with a clear vision [serve]," Fecteau said.

BIDDEFORD, Maine — The massive brick walls of the old textile mills stretch in an arc through part of downtown Biddeford and then back to the Saco River.

For generations, those walls and those mills defined much of life in the southern Maine city.

“My meme and pepe ended up working in the textile mill like a lot of Francos in the city,” Ryan Fecteau said, describing his grandparents' journey from Quebec to Maine in the early 1960s.

Like several generations before them, they came to Maine speaking no English but looking for opportunity.

Their hard work, and that of Fecteau’s parents, laid the foundation for him to become speaker of the Maine House of Representatives when he was just 28 years old—at the time, the youngest speaker in the country.

“I’ve loved representing my hometown, loved serving in the Legislature,” Fecteau said, reflecting on his eight years in office.

Under Maine law, he has reached the term limit and must step down from being speaker and from his House seat as of Dec. 7, when the new Legislature is sworn in. 

Fecteau was seen by a number of other Democrats as a rising star in their party and could have run for the open Senate seat in Biddeford, and if elected, return to the Legislature.

He decided against it.

Fecteau said it's time to go back to private life for a while and work at a regular job.

“I feel like I did my part, and now it's time to let someone else with a clear vision [serve].”

Fecteau said that while he may not be in elected office any longer, he wants to find a job that will allow him to stay involved with some of the big issues he cares about, and worked on as speaker—including affordable housing, raising pay for child care workers, and expanding access to dental care, among others. 

Fecteau, who has been the first openly gay legislator to serve as speaker, was also closely involved with efforts to block the use of “conversion therapy,” a controversial practice some have advocated to try to convert LGBTQ children to heterosexuality. 

The Legislature passed Fecteau’s bill in 2019, which was signed into law by Gov. Janet Mills, banning the use of conversion therapy.

Fecteau said he has had discussions about possible jobs, but there is nothing definite yet. He did indicate he wants to stay in Maine.

For the young legislator who spent part of his youth in public housing and was the first in his family to go to college, graduating with a degree and being elected speaker of the House—all by age 30—represents an achievement he doesn’t take for granted.

“I feel like I represent more than the Fecteau family or the LeBrecque family. I feel I put Francos on the map to some degree. I put Biddeford on the map to some degree," he said. "I’m the first speaker who comes from Biddeford, and while I’m the youngest speaker in the country now, and the first openly gay speaker, in many ways, being the first speaker in 200 years from Biddeford, that’s one of the things I’m most proud of.”

Fecteau said he isn’t closing the door on being a politician and might run for office again in a few years. 

The ambition and focus on key issues, which he said drove him to run in the first place, are still there and may lure him back at some point if the opportunity for higher office comes along.

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