Speaker of the House, John Richardson talks with Rep. Stan Gerzofsky. Photo by Ramona du Houx

 June 16, 2020

By Ramona du Houx

John Richardson, a Democrat known for working well with Republican counterparts, posessed a wit and incisive sense of humor. Once he became your friend, it was for life. He was warmhearted and loved in his Brunswick community and throughout the state.

“I was deeply saddened to learn of John’s passing. As Speaker of the House during my time in the Legislature, he was a tireless advocate for Maine’s working men and women, efforts that he continued later as Commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development, where he fought to build a brighter future for families and small businesses across our state,” said Governor Janet Mills. “John’s many contributions to Maine extend beyond state government, with a legacy that stretches from the creation of the Business and Consumer Court to the redevelopment of the former Brunswick Naval Air Station, now Brunswick Landing. On behalf of the people of Maine, I offer our sincere condolences to his family and friends during this difficult time and express our gratitude for his service to our state. The people of Brunswick have lost a friend. I have lost a friend. The State of Maine has lost a friend.”

John Richardson was elected House Speaker in 2005, after serving as House Majority Leader. John was a practicing Brunswick lawyer and television political commentator. He helped revive the Lincoln Paper and Tissue LLC from closure in 2004. He saw the potential of wind power in Maine and helped the Baldacci administration herald it along.

Former Governor John Baldacci said, “John was a dedicated public servant, a successful attorney and a thoughtful political commentator, whose wit and wisdom will be missed. He was a great and big-hearted friend, an accomplished attorney and a wonderful human being and political leader. He always put the people of Maine first.”

Speaker of the Maine House John Richardson gavels the House to order. Photo by Ramona du Houx

While he was Speaker of the House, Richardson’s legacy was his Small Business initiative (SBI). It was the first time the Legislature addressed the needs and concerns of Maine’s business community by holding listening tours around the state, creating legislation to address those issues and then taking action by ensuring those laws would pass. In the SBI, Democratic and Republican legislators submitted bills to help small businesses. One of Richardson’s bills created a small business court that dealt solely with small business litigation. Until the new law, small businesses were sandwiched between traffic volitions and divorces. As a result, cases were often delayed and businesses lost money.

During his time as Speaker of the House, Richardson was key in repealing the business tax on new equipment (BETR). At the time, the House only had a one-Democratic vote majority. Richardson understood that in order to attract more businesses to Maine or for business to expand in the state, the tax had to go. He worked tirelessly to redevelop the Brunswick Naval Air Station after it closed and was key in its redevelopment as Brunswick Landing.

He was a logical candidate to become the Commissioner of Economic and Community Development. 

House Speaker days before he becomes a member of the Baldacci cabinet as the Commissioner of Economic and Community Development. Photo by Ramona du Houx

“I’m a big believer that if we can improve the economy, improve the earning capacity and the per-capita income of the people of Maine, many more people will prosper; people’s children will have the opportunity to stay and work here if they so choose, and Maine will continue to move in the right direction — that we set in motion during the last four years. I’m excited about taking on this new role, one that I think is a logical extension of what I’ve been doing for some time,” said Richardson during an interview in Maine Insights when he became DECD Commissioner during the Baldacci administration.

Then he ran for governor in 2010.

He came to public service in a heroic way. John’s grandfather and father were firefighters. At 16 he joined their ranks as a volunteer firefighter. By 19 he’d become a Lieutenant in his firefighting unit. That’s when he ran into a blazing fire to save a child. As a result, John was badly burned and spent months in the hospital and in rehabilitation. During his time in care, he benefited from the social safety net and realized that sometimes, when people get knocked down, they need help getting back on their feet. That’s when he knew he wanted to pursue a career in public service.

Richardson was also a hiker and a mountain climber. His 63rd birthday would have been at the end of June. John leaves behind his wife, Stephanie, his three children, and his father.