John. G. Richardson

by Ramona du Houx

On November 14, 2006, a tribute was held in honor of John G. Richardson, the speaker of Maine’s House of Representatives for the 121st and 122nd Legislatures. He will be passing the gavel to the newly elected speaker, Glen Cummings, on December 6, 2006. Richardson served as long as he could with term limits in place. Those who worked with Speaker Richardson will remember his integrity, determination, and dedication to serve the people of Maine to the best of his abilities. Perhaps what history will remember the most is his work for small businesses.

"I had the idea eight years ago that we needed to reclaim the truth that the Democratic Party is the party of small businesses. We always have been, but we needed to recapture that essential ground," said Speaker Richardson. "Democrats are the party of the people. We take care of families — of each other. We help promote the entrepreneurial spirit and seek ways to help small businesses succeed."

The 122nd Legislature unanimously passed what has been called the most significant small-business agenda in 25 years. Legislators approved 13 pieces of small-business legislation as part of the Democratic Small Business Initiative, a project spearheaded by Richardson and 15 other Democratic legislators.

Businesses with fewer that 100 employees comprise 97 percent of Maine’s employers and provide jobs for more than six out of ten workers. Almost three-quarters of the new jobs being created in Maine are in small businesses. While Pine Tree Zones and DirigoChoice are helping, Richardson and his group have identified other areas where state government can assist.

Bringing both sides of the political aisle together has been a hallmark of this speaker who understands how to accomplish the work of the people. "We embarked on listening tours that resulted in Legislature bills being drafted," said Richardson. "We listened to people’s concerns. We found that the resale certificate was contentious and upset lots of small-business owners, so we got to work and changed it in ways that help the business community. We responded."

Some of the legislation that resulted from the business forums includes:

• Creation of the Maine Regulatory Fairness Board, a panel made up of citizen business people, to reduce the burden of regulations on Maine businesses

• A directive to state agencies to assist small businesses in applying for state contracts

• Establishment of the Office of Small Business and Entrepreneurship to focus state business assistance on that sector

• Formation of a Consumer and Commercial Court (Richardson’s bill) to expedite court cases filed by or against small businesses

• A bill to make it possible for some of the state’s smallest entrepreneurs to get a resale certificate

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The Legislature also overwhelmingly approved Gov. Baldacci’s bill to eliminate the Business Equipment Tax as a way to encourage business investments.

Richardson believes strongly that public service is a goal worth achieving. He is committed to helping all the people of Maine and proved his commitment many times over as speaker.

"We’re here to give people the tools they need to succeed," said Richardson. "We’re here to invest in people, to listen to community concerns, to connect with the people of Maine, so we can make laws appropriate to their needs."

Richardson stepped in during a time of economic transition statewide.

"A lot of the transition in the paper industry was out of the control in the Legislature. We had to focus on growth from within, where we could make a difference — I saw that being in small-business growth. We needed to give people the tools, so that they could control their own destiny."

"When I think back on these times, I’ll be satisfied that I played a small part in the transition of this great state. Together we’ve accomplished great things. It’s been a challenge — worth every moment," smiled Richardson. "I feel fulfilled. We made hard, necessary changes. We passed economic development bond issues, we invested in our people and our infrastructure, in order to boost economic activity and create good-paying jobs.

"More people are now covered with health insurance than ever before, more people are working than ever before, and more are seeking higher education. We made steady progress despite the cutbacks from the federal government and the federal unfunded mandates. The state balanced its books and brought property tax relief to people. We stood up for what Democrats believe in; we stood up for the people of Maine. I’m proud of what we accomplished."

During his first speech to the 121st Legislature as speaker of the House, John Glenn Richardson said, "Mainers are expecting a lot from us. Let’s give them the best we have to offer. Let’s fight hard for what we believe in, but let’s not let our zeal for perfection stand in the way of what is possible — and necessary."

The former speaker leaves the state office being vastly true to his father’s words, "Leave anywhere better than you found it."