AUGUSTA, Maine — Ask anybody in Maine politics for an opinion on Home Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross, and also you’re all however sure to listen to phrases each type and important.
“She is so beneficiant and has an ideal coronary heart,” Rep. Margaret Craven, D-Lewiston, stated.
“What you see is what you get,” Penobscot Nation Ambassador Maulian Bryant stated. “It’s an actual human factor about her.”
“She retains the whole lot near her chest,” Rep. Ben Collings, D-Portland, stated.
She’s a “little bit of a lightning rod,” Rep. Joe Perry, D-Bangor, stated.
In seven years in Augusta, she rose from a back-bencher to the pinnacle of her chamber, a task traditionally held by institutionalists whose ideology comes down in the course of their events. That’s not Talbot Ross, a self-described jail abolitionist who was one of the crucial progressive Home members when she was elected to the highest submit in 2022.
The Portland Democrat comes from a trailblazing household. When Talbot Ross was 12 years outdated, she and her sisters watched their father, Gerald Talbot, get sworn in as Maine’s first Black legislator in 1972. Fifty years later, her father noticed her sworn in as the primary Black speaker.
Since then, she presided over a contentious session whereas battling with Gov. Janet Mills over points together with tribal sovereignty. She caught consideration with inflammatory remarks, together with when she advised allies ought to “storm the capitol” over the state’s implementation of her Black historical past legislation.
These remarks got here at occasions on school campuses, not at press conferences or contained in the State Home. The 63-year-old Talbot Ross has been extra guarded and shied away from the press, usually commenting to reporters by means of supplied statements.
“My father was very protecting of his daughters, and I feel Rachel has a few of that protectiveness in her,” Talbot Ross’ sister, Regina Phillips, a Portland metropolis councilor, stated.
The speaker grew up in Portland’s Woodfords Nook neighborhood together with her mother and father, Gerald and Anita, and three sisters, Renee, Regina and Robin. Whereas Gerald confronted racism from some landlords, Talbot Ross described “nothing however actually fond reminiscences” of rising up in Maine’s largest metropolis, having dinner with household every night time and attending the personal Waynflete College.
“It felt like we had been a part of a group that was searching for each other, and at my mother and father’ dwelling, the door was all the time unlocked,” she stated.
Watching her father, who was lively within the civil rights motion and led the NAACP in Portland earlier than becoming a member of the Legislature, and collaborating in native marches helped develop Talbot Ross’ curiosity in public service. Talbot Ross, who has one son, led Portland’s NAACP department after which labored as the town’s multicultural director earlier than resigning in 2015 after a dispute with a parking attendant, the Portland Press Herald reported.
One wall in her Augusta workplace encompasses a framed copy of her father’s 1977 invoice that eliminated prejudicial phrases from geographic options, streets, roads and cities, similar to an island by Stonington with a racial slur in its identify. She constructed on that work with a 2021 measure aiming to switch extra of them. One other wall shows a replica of the thirteenth Modification abolishing slavery.
Within the final yr, Talbot Ross stated she was “happy with the bipartisan work that obtained performed as we made historic investments in housing, in little one care and in emergency medical providers.” She largely shied away from discussing extra controversial moments of the session, similar to when Democrats maneuvered round Republicans to move a price range in March. She stopped debate for hours to search out the votes to move a highly-contested abortion invoice.
A number of members additionally defected in a vote to maintain Mills’ veto of Talbot Ross’ signature tribal-rights measure. Earlier within the yr, Talbot Ross had threatened to oppose the governor’s two-year price range if Mills didn’t help key components of the tribal-rights push.
Talbot Ross stated she didn’t view the vetoes as losses, saying that the majority of her disagreements with Mills are “simply within the tempo of shifting ahead.” In a press release, Mills stated whereas they’ve disagreed, the speaker is an “vital accomplice” on points together with housing.
“I’ll proceed to work carefully together with her to serve the folks of Maine whom I do know she cares deeply about, simply as she is aware of I do,” Mills stated.
Interviews with a couple of dozen present and former lawmakers, lobbyists, family members and pals revealed Talbot Ross has garnered respect for advocating for racial minorities and for spending time chatting with Republicans in each her and their places of work.
But it surely was additionally noteworthy how varied members and lobbyists shied away from criticizing her publicly. Many didn’t need their names hooked up to such feedback that chided Talbot Ross for a way lengthy the Home took to work by means of payments this yr and shedding her energy play try with Mills on the price range and tribal rights.
“She’s very likable, very personable,” Rep. Gary Drinkwater, R-Milford, stated. “She is simply too far to the left … and her time scheduling is atrocious.”
Home Republican leaders didn’t add a lot on Talbot Ross. Assistant Home Minority Chief Amy Arata, R-New Gloucester, stated she hopes “to maneuver ahead together with her within the coming yr in a fashion that’s productive” for Mainers.
A number of lawmakers stated Talbot Ross was not solely in charge for issues within the 151-member Home, which routinely moved slower this yr than the 35-member Senate.
“Apart from the governor, she could have the hardest job within the constructing,” Perry, the Bangor lawmaker, stated.
Talbot Ross can not run for her seat once more resulting from time period limits. She declined to share what her plans are past 2024, saying she was centered on subsequent yr. However Augusta insiders advised she could eye an open seat within the Maine Senate.
As for her “storm the capitol” feedback and later remarks relating to liberal “white girls” she feels have pushed their causes over her racial fairness efforts, Talbot Ross reiterated remorse over utilizing “inflammatory language.”
Her father confronted down Ku Klux Klan members when he was a lawmaker, even giving one klansman the deal with of the household’s Portland dwelling if he had “something to say.” That historical past was on her thoughts when she spoke out on the tempo of change, she stated.
“I come out of a childhood wherein one of many methods we expressed our opinion and made our voices heard was in marching and in taking to the streets,” Talbot Ross stated.