Outgoing Assistant Maine House Majority Leader Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddeford, bumps elbows with Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, after being nominated by House Democrats over Berry to be the next House speaker on Thursday. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

AUGUSTA, Maine — Assistant Maine House Majority Leader Ryan Fecteau of Biddeford is virtually assured to take over as the state’s first openly gay House speaker after fending off a last-minute challenge from a well-known fellow Democrat on Thursday.

House Democrats picked new leaders after losing 11 seats to Republicans in last week’s election but maintaining an 80-67 majority over Republicans. The top two House Democrats currently serving in leadership positions were barred from running in 2020 due to term limits, including Sara Gideon, the current speaker who lost to U.S. Sen. Susan Collins.

While the entire chamber must vote to officially select Gideon’s replacement, Fecteau all but clinched the position in a party caucus on Thursday that came with some last-minute drama after Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, the chair of the Legislature’s energy committee, kicked off a late challenge to Fecteau that he only unveiled formally on Sunday.

Fecteau, who is 28 and works at a Washington-based progressive data firm, is entering his fourth House term. He will be among the youngest House speakers in Maine history and is one of the youngest openly gay legislators in the country. He sponsored a 2019 law banning the pseudoscientific practice of conversion therapy — a practice aiming to change someone’s sexual or gender identities.

In a speech, he cited his family’s working-class background and said he was confident the caucus would be able to pass law relieving student loan debt, increasing funding of public education and relieving the economic burdens of young Mainers.

“I’m filled with hope and determination because I know this caucus … will not turn its back on families who seek a stable and affordable place to call home and a nutritious meal to eat, who will fight for low-wage workers, including those who’ve been on the front lines,” Fecteau said.

Rep. Christopher Kessler, D-South Portland, who nominated Berry, drew a contrast between his preferred candidate and Fecteau by noting that lawmakers sought Berry for the position. Berry, a former House majority leader noted his standing as a leading opponent of Central Maine Power and its proposed $1 billion hydropower corridor, saying he would assert the caucus’ independence.

After the vote, Berry tweeted that Fecteau would “lead the Maine House with dignity, discipline, principle and passion.”

Fecteau and Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, will be formally selected to the leadership posts by the Legislature in December. On Thursday, House Democrats picked Rep. Michelle Dunphy of Old Town to replace outgoing Majority Leader Matt Moonen of Portland.

Six Democrats are also waging a behind-the-scenes campaign to replace term-limited Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, who is Dunphy’s husband. Moonen, Sen. Shenna Bellows of Manchester, outgoing Sen. Justin Chenette of Saco and Reps. Erik Jorgensen of Portland and Craig Hickman of Winthrop and former Rep. Tom Bull of Freeport are running for the position elected by the Legislature.

Correction: An earlier photo caption misstated Rep. Ryan Fecteau’s legislative title.

Watch more: