When Rep. Justin Chenette of Saco arrived at the State House two years ago, he was 60 years younger than the oldest member of the House of Representatives.

Chenette, who became the youngest state representative in Maine at the age of 21, is now 23 and running for re-election. But even if he wins, he could still lose his title as the youngest House member to another millennial: a fellow Democrat from just across the Saco River.

Ryan Fecteau is a 22-year-old recent college graduate from Biddeford who is making his first run for the House.

While it is not unusual to see Maine legislators in their late 20s and early 30s, it is rare for candidates only a handful of years out of high school to seek office at that level. The average age of state representatives is 55 and the oldest member, Rep. Helen Rankin of Hiram, is 82.

“So often millennials think other people are going to handle it, but if we don’t step up it will be too late,” Chenette said.

The two candidates, known by some as the dynamic duo of Biddeford-Saco politics, both face challengers in the Nov. 4 election, however.


Chenette is challenged for the District 15 seat by Republican Carol Patterson, chairwoman of the Saco City Republican Committee and a first-time candidate.

In Biddeford, Fecteau is running to represent House District 11, which encompasses the residential areas just outside of the city’s downtown core. His opponent is Republican Debi Davis, a political newcomer who was inspired to run for office after going to Augusta to watch the House in action.

Both women say they have life experiences that their youthful opponents lack, something they argue would make them better suited to the Legislature.

“I have raised a family, owned a business in farming, paid bills, balanced the paycheck and paid hired help,” said Patterson, the Saco Republican.

Biddeford and Saco, two of the largest cities in York County, are traditionally Democratic strongholds. Both are former mill towns with strong working class backgrounds, and both are undergoing transformations as textile mills and Main Streets are redeveloped. Much of the energy around revitalizing the cities – especially in Biddeford – comes from younger people who are moving to the area to live and open small businesses.

“It feels like we’re in an environment where people are yearning for change. Who better to lead than people who will be impacted by the change we make?” Chenette said.


Davis and Patterson, meanwhile, said they would work to bring change, too, by improving the climate for business expansion, such as by reducing costs or burdensome regulation.

The similarities between Chenette and Fecteau go beyond their age. Both men also are openly gay, a coincidence that hasn’t become an issue in either race. Chenette is known as the youngest openly gay legislator in the country, although he could soon lose that title to Fecteau, as well.

Both had early introductions to politics in high school, have spent years volunteering with political campaigns and are advocates for redevelopment and economic growth in the coastal York County cities in which they grew up. They became friendly after meeting through their work with Equality Maine.

“People have called us the Batman and Robin of Saco and Biddeford,” Chenette said. “If they catch wind of that in Augusta, we’ll never hear the end of it.”

Chenette, a Saco native, got his start in politics as a high school student appointed to the Maine State Board of Education by former Gov. John Baldacci. That is also where he got his first taste of being discouraged by government and what he felt was a lack of transparency in Augusta. He came to feel there wasn’t enough focus in Augusta on issues affecting young Mainers, like college costs, the job market and the long-term economic viability of the state.

“I was thinking about these things because I was going through them,” Chenette said.


Chenette said he has had some people question his age and experience, but those types of comments have largely disappeared since he won his first race with 60 percent of the vote.

In his first term, among other things, he sponsored the bill that ultimately led to higher speed limits on some stretches of the Maine Turnpike and interstate highways.

Fecteau, who ran his primary campaign while attending college in Washington, D.C., said he rarely faces questions about his age.

“It was not negative and people didn’t question why I had the audacity to run at such a young age,” Fecteau said.

Fecteau said his interest in politics blossomed in high school, when he served for two years as a student representative to the Biddeford School Committee. Later, he worked as a field organizer for Equality Maine and sat on the Biddeford Charter Commission. As a legislator, he says, he wants to work to attract young people back to Maine.

“I think it’s incredibly important to realize that young people like me are incredibly vital to the future of Maine,” Fecteau said. “If we’re not at the table, our perspectives are going to get lost.”


While Chenette and Fecteau feel their age is a benefit, their opponents say they lack some of the experience needed in Augusta.

Patterson, the Saco Republican, said she thinks it’s wonderful for young people to be involved in politics, but Chenette “lacks world experiences” such as owning a house and paying taxes. She also offers experience as a former business owner and employer, she said.

Patterson, a 67-year-old retired school secretary, said she decided to run to offer Saco residents a change. If elected, she said her focus in Augusta will be on cutting welfare fraud and abuse, changing the partisan attitude in Augusta and cutting back on regulations on businesses.

“We need to cut (businesses) some slack. We are choking our own people who are trying to keep jobs in this state,” she said.

Across the river in Biddeford, Davis said the age of her opponent hasn’t played into her campaign.

“As a taxpayer, I would be asking questions such as what does a 22-year-old possibly know about running the state and making decisions that affect people’s pocketbooks,” she said.


Davis, who is 55 and has not run for office before, said she has been a taxpayer for more than 40 years and understands the pressure families are under with increasing property taxes and concerns about jobs.

“Biddeford is in a great position because we have mill space and want to attract great businesses to come in and offer great jobs,” she said. “We know they can’t do it unless we provide a business-friendly (environment) for them. That’s something we have to do on the state level because Biddeford is not alone in this. We have to make it so when (businesses) are looking to expand or relocate, Maine is on the top of the list.”

Chenette and Fecteau recognize it is somewhat unusual to get into politics at a time when most people are just launching their professional careers, but they expect more young people will be heading to Augusta.

“At some point, this won’t be a story anymore,” Chenette said.

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