Talbot Ross becomes first Black speaker of the House

Dec. 7—Rep. Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, made state history Wednesday when she became the first Black speaker of the House of Representatives, taking her oath of office a half a century after her father was sworn in as Maine's first Black state lawmaker in the very same chamber.

"My story, our African American story, our laborer story, the stories of our neighborhoods, is Maine's story," Talbot Ross told a packed House in her acceptance speech. "There is opportunity and possibility. I am so glad for this blessing. And yes, there can be no doubt, I am my father's proud daughter."

Her father, Gerald Talbot, and a dozen family members gathered to witness the historic event from the upper balcony of the House, a place where Talbot Ross used to sit when she watched her father debate legislative matters.

As speaker, Talbot Ross will control the flow of action on the floor, set the agenda and have an outsized say on which bills come up for a vote. She appoints representatives to standing committees, plays a key role in state budget negotiations, recruits new candidates and is third in the line of succession to be governor.

Talbot Ross was one of 147 representatives and 35 senators sworn in Wednesday, the first day of the new legislative session. In addition to Talbot Ross, House members voted in Billy Bob Faulkingham, R-Winter Harbor, as minority leader. Senators voted in Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, as president and Trey Stewart, R-Aroostook, as minority leader.

Lawmakers also voted to create a Joint Select Committee on Housing and, in a joint afternoon session, voted to reelect the state constitutional officers, Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey, Secretary of State Shenna Bellows, and State Treasurer Henry Beck.

Swearing-in Day at the Maine State Capitol is usually an exercise in pomp and circumstance, with new lawmakers getting to know each other, the process and the building and rookies and veterans alike on the hunt for good committee assignments.

But a looming vote on Mills' proposed $474 million emergency winter energy relief plan made this first day of a new Legislature different than almost any other, with repeated party caucuses behind held and an unassigned emergency bill bouncing back and forth between the chambers.

As of Wednesday afternoon, neither chamber had voted or debated the proposal, but merely gave it first readings. But members of both parties said they expected the bill to come up for a vote Wednesday night after dinner.

This story will be updated.