This is the speech I gave at swearing in December in 2020 to welcome the new 130th Legislature.
Welcome and congratulations to each member of the 130th Maine House of Representatives! Whether you are new or returning, it takes a lot of effort and commitment from you and from your families and friends to be elected. It takes even more amidst the reality we find ourselves in during this unprecedented year. So let’s take a moment and give each other a round of applause.
Today, much like the rest of 2020, is unlike anything we have ever experienced. We sit here, in the Augusta Civic Center, distanced, masked, health screened and hand sanitized. Our friends and families are watching from home. The halls of the Civic Center are not packed with well wishers. We do not get to see your kids and grand-kids, joyfully or impatiently sitting on your laps, whose photos with you on this day later serve as a measure of your time spent here.
We do this because each and every one of us knows that now, more than ever, our work to keep Mainers safe and healthy is paramount. As of today, close to 12,000 Mainers have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and we have lost 214 lives. And I want to be clear, these are more than just numbers. They are our family members, our friends, our neighbors, our loved ones. We know around this state and this country last week there were empty chairs at countless Thanksgiving tables and my heart goes out to each and every person grieving those losses.
As we embark upon this session, we have a tremendous responsibility to both the state of Maine and to each other. The oath we just swore carries a weight like no other, in a time like no other. I think we all recognize this, so I want to thank you and tell you how honored I am to begin my service to you and to our state as Speaker of the Maine House. For many of you in this chamber and most everyone outside of it, I should probably introduce myself. My name is Ryan Fecteau. Like every single one of you, I’m proud to be a Mainer.
My memere, my pepere and my dad moved from a rural farmhouse in Packington, Quebec to Biddeford, Maine in 1964 to work in the textile mills. They spoke very little English. They had very few means. But they had the determination to build a better, more prosperous life for their family. By no means was it easy.My parents divorced when I was young. My dad finished night school and went to work in the dye house at the textile mills in Biddeford. My mom, who dropped out of high school before 10th grade, raised me and my sister in low-income housing, drove a beat-up unreliable car and depended on food stamps to put food on the table—and sometimes it was not enough. She was then and is now, a low-wage healthcare worker. She managed to make the most of her career, despite not having a high school diploma. But she always worried about our futures.
When you are living on the edge like my family was, it seemed like every financial crisis that could happen, did happen. While things were tough, there was some stability amongst the chaos. We had a safe place to live. Though sometimes sparse and not always nutritious, we at least had food on the table. These are my memories, but for too many Mainers, too many Maine families, this is reality. And during this pandemic, countless families are facing hardships they never could have imagined a year ago.
This is a part of what shapes who I am, how I will serve as your Speaker, and why I will spend the next two years doing everything in my power to make life better for every family in this state. And I believe that every single one of you is here and serving in this role to make life better for the people in this state. I think each of you have incredibly important experiences and backgrounds that will impact your work and I pledge to listen and learn from your stories, just as you have mine.
The one constant in my childhood was public education. Until 4th grade, I would leave the classroom and join a special education instructor for a few hours each day. I was unable to read. The public education system did not let me down. I’ll never forget the day that the special education instructor walked me back to the full class and announced that I had graduated from my specialized program. The entire classroom erupted into applause. Public educators instilled confidence in me.
And at every turn, I knew they believed in me and in my ability to succeed. As a result, I became the first person in my family to graduate from college. It was during that time in college that I came out as gay to my friends and family. It was another pivotal moment in my life that required bravery. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done and ultimately one of the most meaningful.
Easily, my story could have ended far differently. Without the right combination of my family and access to essential public services, I might have never graduated high school, let alone from my alma mater The Catholic University of America. This ability to persevere, to find a new pathway towards success reminds me of my hometown and the city I so proudly represent, Biddeford.
Not that long ago, Biddeford was widely regarded as a blue-collar mill town that trucked in trash to burn in a downtown incinerator. The downtown was filled with empty storefronts and those textile mills that my dad worked at were vacant. Like so many towns here in Maine, when the mills left our community fractured, it wasn’t clear how or if we would recover. Today, Biddeford is now the youngest city in Maine. The median age of all residents is 35 years old, and just 29 years old in the city’s downtown area. There is a confluence of new housing, of unique small businesses, a walkable downtown, a booming real estate market. Biddeford is now one of the most desirable places to live and there is an excitement about the future of my city.
None of this was by happenstance. It took hard work. It took public and private partnerships. It took dedication and quality leadership. It took heart, not just the feeling, but the nonprofit Heart of Biddeford that accelerated this revitalization. It took businesses willing to take a chance and organizations willing to make an investment. It took people, not political parties, coming together to work toward a common goal. It took partnership, in every sense of the word.
Much may be made of my relative youthfulness and I am going to embrace it. Because Mainers know we must attract and retain young people to fuel our economy, to rebuild our workforce and to ignite a bright future for our state. We need stories like the one of Biddeford in communities across the state. You can always count on me to champion a message that asks young people to live, work and raise a family here in Maine.
As I think about this recovery, this reinvention, I think about the enormous potential we have here in Maine. What if, as we recover from this crippling pandemic, we take this as an opportunity? What if we make a promise to each other and to the people of this state to truly do the hard work necessary to capitalize on all of our strengths in the state, while making sure we don’t leave any of those who have fallen on hard times behind?
At the end of the day, we all want better health care, education, jobs and opportunities for our communities. We all have infrastructure that needs attention. We all care about clean water, clean air and preserving Maine’s natural beauty for future generations. We all want every Maine family to succeed and every town to have great schools and successful businesses.
The next two years will be a turning point in Maine’s history. As we celebrate our bicentennial, if we commit to working as partners with our colleagues in the Senate and with Governor Mills, we can take what we’ve learned in 2020 about what’s really important and set ourselves in the right direction for the next 200.
Now there is no economic health without public health, so our first priority will be working as partners with the federal government to address COVID-19 and encourage immediate relief for working families, small businesses, and communities. We need to communicate to our constituents how and when to receive a vaccine. We need to help provide certainty in an uncertain time.
But if we want to provide our children and grandchildren the quality education they deserve; if we want to make Maine more energy independent and address climate change; if we want to provide the broadband that is integral to everything in our lives; if we want to fix our crumbling roads and bridges; fight back against the devastating opioid epidemic that continues to grow worse; improve access to health care, child care and elder care to those in need; build more and better housing stock – we have got to pledge to each other to see every person at every desk in this auditorium as a partner, not a partisan.
None of this is going to be easy. We are facing unheard of challenges on all fronts. We have to both recover and rebuild and reinvent all at the same time. But we will do this and we will do this by working together. It is the only way great things are possible.
I will always work in partnership with each of you, my colleagues in the Senate and with Governor Mills. I will always stay at the table and negotiate in good faith. I will treat the office of the Speaker and the institution I serve in with the respect it deserves. I will always see what is possible and will believe that things will get better… because WE will make them better.
Thank you for giving me the privilege of standing here with you today. Thank you for this tremendous honor. Thank you for doing the hard work of showing up and believing that government can and must work for all people.
I look forward to serving with all of you and working with you to improve the lives of everyone living in the great State of Maine.