AUGUSTA — After a nearly five-decade career in the Maine Legislature that ended in a shocking defeat two years ago, it would seem that John Martin would be ready to enjoy some peace and quiet.
But this year, the 73-year-old Democrat from Eagle Lake, who served an unprecedented 10 terms as House speaker, is among dozens of former lawmakers who have been ousted from the Legislature by defeat or term limits and are vying to return.
Martin’s unmatched grasp of legislative rules and procedures made him one of the most powerful people in Augusta, but his reign came to an end in 2012 when he lost by less than 300 votes to Allen Nadeau, the Republican he’s facing again.
“There are so many things that we can do to improve the conditions for Maine people, and many of them went by the wayside the last two years,” said Martin, adding that he’s eager to represent his community in the House for a few more years and then find a qualified Democrat to replace him.
While the battles for Maine governor and Congress will make the most noise over the airwaves this fall, the local legislative contests that decide which party controls the state House and Senate can have just as large an impact on the direction of Maine.
Maine House and Senate members, who serve two-year terms, are bound to four consecutive terms in either chamber. But many, like Martin, have gotten around that for years by switching back and forth between the two.
This year, two dozen of the candidates for the 151-member House are former lawmakers or current senators, like Republican Roger Sherman of Hodgdon, who just completed four terms in the Senate after being termed out in the House.
Meanwhile, 14 candidates trying to enter the 35-member Senate either previously served in the Legislature or are switching over from the House. That includes Democrat Bill Diamond of Windham, a former secretary of state who spent six terms in the Senate and three in the House.
Martin’s lengthy tenure was a driving force behind the push to approve term limits in 1993. If elected, Martin says, one of the first things he’ll do is file a bill to repeal them.
He said that term limits have empowered lobbyists, state officials and the administration by allowing them to more easily exert their influence on young lawmakers who hold little knowledge of legislative history and process. “No one would go to a surgeon who has just come out of medical school,” he said.
But Martin’s idea drew swift criticism from Republicans, who called it self-serving.
“For John Martin to come to Augusta and say that he wants to repeal the term limit law that was enacted precisely because of his abuse of power is shockingly out of touch and arrogant,” said David Sorensen, spokesman for the Maine Republican Party.
And while Martin may already have a few ideas for bills to introduce in January, he must first persuade voters to give him another shot.
Republicans said many in the district had grown weary of Martin and were ready for change.
“I heard a lot from people that … ‘We have been going down one direction for a while and we are willing to make a change,’ ” said Nadeau, 57, a mechanic who lives in Fort Kent and served on the State and Local Government Committee.
For some former lawmakers, the decision to make another run is pretty simple: No one else wanted to.
Sherman, who’s running for the House seat that covers several Aroostook County towns, said it can be difficult to persuade young people to run for the Legislature because they’re starting a family and a career. But Sherman, a 73-year-old retired teacher and lawyer, said he sees working in Augusta as another way to keep his “brain turning.”
“No one yet is saying, ‘Why don’t you do down to Florida in the winter time?’ ” he said.