With Gov. Janet Mills in quarantine, the state’s acting chief justice instead swore lawmakers into office Wednesday in a historic offsite session that featured the state’s first openly gay House speaker and the first Black woman in a party leadership position.
House members formally elected Democratic Rep. Ryan Fecteau to succeed House Speaker Sara Gideon. The 28-year-old is also youngest House speaker in the country serving currently, officials said.
Also making history was Rep. Rachel Talbot Ross, the first Black lawmaker in a leadership position, serving as assistant majority leader.
Outside, more than 100 demonstrators chanted and waved signs attacking restrictions imposed during the pandemic that they said hurt the economy. Others protested the outcome of the presidential election.
Inside, all were screened for COVID-19 symptoms, and lawmakers in both chambers were seated at least 6 feet apart. They wore masks or face shields, and each had a tablet to register their votes.
Later in the day, lawmakers planned to elect a secretary of state, attorney general, treasurer and auditor.
Difficult work on shoring up the budget and other matters will wait until January. Mills has found a number of one-time budget savings to balance the budget that ends in June, but many need legislative approval.
It was the first time the Legislature convened since lawmakers adjourned because of the pandemic in March.
At least one lawmaker missed the session because of COVID-19. Sen.-elect Rick Bennett, R-Oxford, announced over the weekend that he contracted the virus and is quarantining in his home.
Both chambers are controlled by Democrats, so there was little drama in the selection of leaders.
Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, was chosen to serve another term as Senate president.
In the House, Fecteau, D-Biddeford, has been a forceful voice on issues important to the LGBTQ community, helping to ban so-called conversion therapy. He also pressed for construction of more affordable housing.
Ross, a Portland Democrat who was just elected to a third term, is the first Black female lawmaker in Maine, and is the daughter of Gerald Talbot, the first Black lawmaker in Maine.
She was selected by her party caucus to become the first person of color to serve on a leadership team.
The meeting was held at the 49,000-square-foot Augusta Civic Center to ensure plenty of distance.
It’s unclear based on journals and legislative records if lawmakers have previously met outside the current Statehouse, which was completed in 1832, according to the Law and Legislative Reference Library.
It’s possible that lawmakers met elsewhere when the Statehouse was renovated from 1909 to 1911, researchers said.