Robert Tardy, a longtime lawmaker and agricultural lobbyist, died at his home on Monday, Sept.  20, according to family members. Credit: Courtesy photo

Robert Tardy, a former lawmaker and lobbyist who represented Maine’s agricultural industry for decades, died on Tuesday at 77, according to his family.

Tardy traces his roots back to Gulfport, Mississippi, but a military family lifestyle brought him to Newport, where he grew up and graduated from high school. A former high school teacher, he sold farm equipment and cattle, trades that made him familiar to farmers throughout rural Somerset County.

His political career began in Palmyra, where he served as a select board member and town moderator for several years, according to his son, former Republican state Rep. Josh Tardy. A Democrat, Robert Tardy’s Augusta career began in 1985 after he defeated Rep. James Reeves, a longstanding Republican incumbent, for Palmyra’s district.

His ability to win in a district diametrically opposed to his political leanings spoke to the elder Tardy’s defining traits — a keen mind, a kind heart and a willingness to work with people to get things done, his son said.

“He understood that how you treat people means something, and he made it a priority to not burn bridges,” Josh Tardy said.

Robert Tardy would serve five terms in Augusta, four as chair of the Legislature’s agricultural committee, according to legislative documents.

He ran unsuccessfully for the Maine Senate, losing to Betty Lou Mitchell before he turned to lobbying. Robert Tardy and Mitchell would later become fast friends, Josh Tardy said.

Former Gov. John Baldacci said Tardy’s ability to rally allies from both sides of the political aisle to his causes made him a particularly effective legislator. 

At one point during Baldacci’s tenure in the state Senate, Tardy led an effort to allow farmers to advertise their wares by erecting “Sweet Corn for Sale” signs along Maine roadways. The farmers needed special permission to do that because erecting those signs ran afoul of Maine’s stringent billboard law that prohibits large, roadside advertising billboards.

Tardy filled a legislative committee room with farmers advocating for the change, Baldacci said.

“I just remember seeing him in the back of the room with a smile on his face,” Baldacci said. “There was no way we were going to vote against a room full of farmers. The one crack in the state’s billboard law was because of Bob’s efforts.”

As a lobbyist, Tardy was known to represent a variety of interests.

His final lobbying client list from this year includes the rental car business Enterprise, the Molson Coors Beverage Company and the agricultural interest groups CropLife America and RISE. But Maine harness horse racing, an industry he represented for decades for the Maine Harness Horsemen’s Association and Scarborough Downs, was perhaps his greatest passion. He led multiple charges to allow lottery machines at certain horse racetracks.

Josh Tardy —  a Republican who is part of the powerhouse Augusta lobbying firm Mitchell, Tardy, Jackson — said he occasionally found himself on opposite sides of an issue with his father, particularly when it came to how casino revenues were being used in the budget. But it was never personal, and Robert Tardy had an office in his son’s building, which allowed them to see each other nearly every day.

“It certainly made for dynamic discussions at the Tardy dinner table,” Josh Tardy said.

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated when Robert Tardy died.