John Martin - a Franco for the Century

By Juliana L’Heureux

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A recently published list of twenty Maine people who influenced the 20th Century included one prominent Franco-American political figure. In fact, John Martin 57 is a 9th generation Franco-American who lives in the Aroostook County town of Eagle Lake. 

Although his roots are in the northern area of Maine known for the French Acadian heritage, Martin’s ancestors came to the area from Quebec.

Martin is well known for his 33-year record in Maine politics. His public service is dedicated to serving constituents in the Aroostook County towns surrounding Eagle Lake, as an elected Maine Legislator and as the longest serving Speaker of the House of Representatives, a position he held for an unprecedented 20 years. 

"I was surprised my name was included in the list," says Martin. 

Martin learned about the honor when a man approached him while he was attending Sunday Mass at St. Andrews Church in Augusta several weeks ago, on the day the list was published in the Maine Sunday Telegram. 

Martin believes he was included on the "top 20" list because of his years working to modernize the Maine Legislature when he was Speaker of the House.

"John Martin is perhaps the most important figure in the modern history of the Legislature and by extension, the laws it passed," says Maine political analyst Dr. Christian Potholm. "He enjoyed working behind the scenes to support Democratic Party candidates. He was close to both Ed Muskie and George Mitchell," says Potholm.

As a Franco, Martin supported the development of the Acadian Historical Commission in Aroostook County. Senator Olympia Snowe invited Martin to testify before the US Senate in Washington about the Acadian culture.

Additionally, Martin introduced a budget item in the Maine Legislature to support the development of an Acadian Archive at the University of Maine at Fort Kent. 

Currently, Martin is writing a chapter about Franco-American politicians for a book about prominent Maine Francos. His chapter will include Francos who share his love of politics, like Dennis Dutremble’s of Biddeford, who was President of the Maine Senate and a candidate for Congress in Maine’s First Congressional District in 1994. 

Also, Elmer Violette of Van Buren, who later became a Maine Supreme Court justice. Another important Franco was Justice Belliveau, the father of a prominent Franco-American attorney Severin Belliveau and a gubernatorial candidate, of Hallowell. 

Ironically, only about 20 people will be covered in the chapter because, for some weird reason, Franco politicians have never won elections in statewide races. 

"I am proud of my Franco heritage," admits Martin.

He was raised to be proud of his Franco heritage, but learned about discrimination against the French when he attended the University of Maine at Orono as an undergraduate. Later, he worked to influence people in the Maine Legislature to respect the French heritage. 

Martin particularly enjoys telling English friends about his family’s genealogy because his ancestors arrived in Quebec in 1606, before the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Rock. "I feel I am a spokesperson for the Franco-American", he says.

In January, Martin returns to work in Augusta as the Representative from Eagle Lake, extending his impressive public service career in the Maine House of Representatives. 

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Published on January 6, 2000
Copyright 1999-2000, Portland Press Herald, Portland, Maine and Juliana L'Heureux