Rep. Ryan Fecteau of Biddeford has been nominated by majority Democrats in the Maine House of Representatives to serve as the next speaker of the House.

Fecteau, 28, who will start his fourth consecutive term in December, was nominated on the first single ballot as the caucus voted in the House chamber Thursday. Also running for the post was Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham.

Rep. Ryan Fecteau

The House speaker’s role is a powerful one, because the speaker controls the flow of action on the floor, sets the agenda and can have sway over which bills are brought to a vote or not. The speaker also appoints members to standing committees and can play an important role in recruiting candidates or helping them with their campaigns when the Legislature is not in session. The speaker is also often a key player in state budget negotiations between the Legislature and the governor’s office and is third in the line of succession for that office behind the state Senate president.

Fecteau said he was humbled to receive the nomination from his Democratic peers, and he pledged to work to unite Republicans and Democrats if he is elected when lawmakers first meet in December. He would replace outgoing House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, who last week lost her bid for the U.S. Senate to incumbent Sen. Susan Collins.

“Working alongside him the past two years allowed me to witness his natural leadership capabilities and his dedication to the people of Maine. I wish him every success as he takes on this new role,” Gideon said of Fecteau, who is the outgoing assistant majority leader in the House.

A grandson of French-Canadian immigrants, Fecteau told his colleagues he grew up in low-income housing, raised by a single mother who often struggled to pay the rent working low-wage health care jobs. He said he didn’t learn to read until he was in the fourth grade but went on to be the only member of his family to graduate from college. He said that he, like many Maine college grads, was saddled with debt from student loans.

He said public education never gave up on him and was one of the only constants in his life growing up poor.

“I’m filled with hope and determination because when Democrats lead, people who are too often forgotten or left at the margins are seen, they are valued and given a fair shot,” Fecteau told his colleagues. “Policymakers like you saw value and gave families like mine a fair shot. I’m a Democrat because we believe in families like mine who come to Maine for a better life. We believe in people who may not look like us or speak the same language or practice the same religion.”

Fecteau previously served as the House chairman of the Legislature’s Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee.

According to a press release from the Democratic caucus Thursday, Fecteau and outgoing House Majority Leader Matt Moonen, D-Portland, served as the first openly gay legislative leadership duo in U.S. history.

Fecteau will also be the first openly gay man to serve as Maine House speaker. In addition, he will be the youngest House speaker in the country serving currently, The Associated Press reported.

Fecteau may be best known for his work on legislation that banned so-called “conversion therapy” in Maine. He is a Biddeford native and a graduate of the Catholic University of America and works as an account executive at a data firm.

Democrats also elected Rep. Michelle Dunphy, D-Old Town, as their majority leader. Dunphy is married to Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, who also served in the Legislature in the seat currently held by Dunphy. Dunphy will replace Rep. Moonen in the role of majority leader. Moonen has served four consecutive terms in the House and is term-limited from running again.

Moonen is also among several outgoing lawmakers who have announced their candidacy for Maine secretary of state to replace Dunlap, who is also term-limited from the post. Others running for the post include outgoing Reps. Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop, and Erik Jorgensen, D-Portland. Former state Rep. Thomas Bull, a Democrat who represented Freeport in the House in the late 1990s, is also running for the post, as is outgoing Sen. Justin Chenette, D-Saco. Sen. Shenna Bellows, D-Manchester, a former executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, has also announced her candidacy for the post.

Maine is unlike most other states in that the Legislature is responsible for electing the state’s constitutional officers, including the secretary of state, the attorney general and the state treasurer. Most states require these offices be elected by voters in statewide contests.

Democrats on Thursday also elected Rep. Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, as assistant majority leader.

Last week, members of the House Republican minority caucus selected Rep. Kathleen Dillingham of Oxford as minority leader and Rep. Joel Stetkis of Canaan as assistant minority leader.

Meanwhile, Senate majority Democrats have elected Sen. Nate Libby of Lewiston to again serve as majority leader and Sen. Eloise Vitelli of Arrowsic to serve as assistant majority leader.

Democrats, who will hold 22 seats in the 35-seat Senate, have also nominated Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, to again serve as Senate president. That selection will also need to be formalized by an official vote of the full Senate when the new Legislature is sworn in during its first meeting at the Augusta Civic Center next month.

On Wednesday, Senate Republicans selected Sen. Jeff Timberlake of Turner to serve as minority leader and Sen. Matthew Pouliot of Augusta as assistant minority leader.

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