First of two parts

AUGUSTA — When Hannah Pingree began her first term in the Maine House of Representatives, she was 25 and single.

Expectations were high. She was named to the most powerful committee – Appropriations – as a freshman, putting her on the fast track to leadership.

Now, eight years later, she fulfilled her goals by finishing her final term as a 33-year-old speaker of the House.

So what’s next?

Go back to North Haven for a few years, hopefully start a family with her husband and ponder the next step for one of the rising stars of Maine politics.

“I love politics,” she said. “I will likely run for office again. I love being a part of this process in the State House. I love being involved in issues in Maine, but I don’t have a master game plan. I don’t have an office I picked out that I’m going to run for in X number of years.”

Pingree said she will continue to work part time at the family’s inn and restaurant on North Haven and is looking for other work. She also was elected recently to the island’s school board.

During her eight years in Augusta, budget problems were the biggest issue. When she served on Appropriations, the state faced a $1.2 billion budget gap. She then served as chairwoman of the Health and Human Services Committee and moved into leadership, first as majority leader and then speaker.

Her track through the State House was paralleled by House Minority Leader Josh Tardy, R-Newport, who began his service the same year. For the last four years, they have worked closely not only during official House business, but also in negotiations on budget and bond issues.

“We have a good line of communication,” she said. “I try not to catch him off guard. I try to keep him always updated about the process.”

Pingree said she often sends text messages to track Tardy down.

During late-night negotiations on the budget, he replied he was at The Wharf in Hallowell, when he was really in another State House room conducting negotiations with other Republicans.

The joking goes both ways. Pingree said she’s sent him a message saying that Senate Republicans had agreed to a large bond package, and she wanted to know if it was OK with him.

That gets his attention.

“He’ll walk in the door immediately,” she said.

That working relationship helped set the tone in the House, and paved the way for agreement on two recent budgets.

“It speaks very well of our entire Legislature, especially compared to other states that have been in complete partisan gridlock and shutdown,” she said.

Tardy, a rising star in the Republican Party, had nothing but praise for Pingree and her performance as speaker.

“She is – flat-out – a great leader,” he said. “As a presiding officer, she’s fair. She’s got a great sense of humor. She’s a tenacious negotiator. She’s got a great personality for being a presiding officer.”

In addition to passing bipartisan budgets and bonds, Pingree said other accomplishments include creating an energy trust, passing a gay-marriage law, and restricting the use of hazardous chemicals in products sold in Maine.

As a young woman in politics, Pingree has dealt with her share of awkward moments.

Earlier this year, an e-mail from a Brunswick school board member who was upset about cuts to school funding included this sentence: “Let me start off by stating you are the most gorgeous member of the Legislature.”

Pingree said in that instance, she responded to the concerns in the e-mail about school funding – and ignored the sexist remark.

“Honestly, as a young woman in politics, I find it’s usually best to just deal with people seriously and sometimes ignore stupid comments they make,” she said. “Sometimes it’s appropriate to push back and I have done that on occasion. Sometimes it’s appropriate to just say, ‘Thank you very much,’ or ignore the comment.”

For the party, Pingree’s time as speaker has brought new energy, said Arden Manning, campaign coordinator for the Maine Democratic Party. He’s hoping she returns to politics sooner rather than later.

“I hope it’s a brief departure,” he said. “Hannah has done an amazing job as speaker in terms of bringing new energy to the Democratic Party. Her level of enthusiasm and energy is unparalleled.”

Pingree said she’ll now have some time for things such as gardening; walking her black Labrador retriever, Willie; and sailing with her father and her husband.

She’s looking forward to spending time with her parents, who are divorced but both still live on the island. Her father is a boat builder, and her mother is U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat who represents the 1st District.

Although she opposes term limits because she’s seen the loss of experienced legislators, the speaker said the timing has worked out well for her.

“This current term limit is not coming at a bad time for me in my life,” she said.

MaineToday Media State House Reporter Susan Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at:

scover@centralmaine.com