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Franklin County’s claim to gubernatorial – or near gubernatorial – fame

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Governor William King (From the Patten Free Library)

The election earlier this month marked the first time a person from Franklin County had been elected Governor. It is by no means, however, the first time that a Franklin County person has achieved significant prominence in a leadership role in state government.

Maine’s first governor, William King, is of course frequently associated with the eponymously named Kingfield. Though he was a principal proprietor when it was first settled, and though the Bath resident sometimes stayed there, he never made it his legal residence.

Less than a decade after King’s tenure, Farmington attorney Nathan Cutler became an interim acting governor. This was upon the death of Enoch Lincoln in October 1829, when Cutler for three months succeeded to the interim position as senate president. (It was not until a constitutional amendment in 1957 did the senate president become a full-fledged Governor upon a vacancy in the Blaine House.)

If Cutler’s name looks familiar, it is because his grandsons were the benefactors of our local public library given in his memory.

Our next brush with near gubernatorial status came in l866. That’s the year the Democrats nominated attorney and newspaper editor Eben Pillsbury to the position. Though a recent arrival in Augusta at the time of his nomination, Pillsbury had been for many years a resident first of Kingfield and then of Farmington. It was while in Farmington that he was from l859 until l865 co-editor of the Franklin Patriot, a Democratic paper that was a competitor to the Chronicle, a forerunner of the Franklin Journal.

Pillsbury lost the election to the returning hero of Little Round Top, General Joshua Chamberlain. The defeat still left Pillsbury’s stature as a party leader largely intact as his party re-nominated him to the position in each of the two succeeding elections, l867 and l868 – governors had only a one-year term back then. He again lost to Chamberlain, capturing 44-percent of the vote in the closest of the three elections.

By 1895, Joseph C. Holman was at the nerve center of state government. At that time, he had become chairman of the Governor’s Executive Council, the pinnacle of his eminent career as a public servant. It was rumored that he would be seeking his party’s nomination for governor, but whether so or not, the onset of illness precluded him from seeking his party’s nomination. His magnificent Main Street homestead – in recent years acquired by the Congregational United Church of Christ Church – was built at this time.

Prior to Holman being elected as a Republican State Senator from Franklin County, his father-in-law, Alvan Currier, had been elected in 1854 as one of the first Republican State Senators in America as a member of the newly-founded Republican party. Later on, his son Currier C. Holman and his grandson Joseph F. Holman would win election to the same seat, one to which Russell Black has just been elected earlier this month.

Farmington native Frank Holley ranks as one of the more outstanding Maine government leaders in the first half of the 20th century, serving as House Speaker and then as Senate President in the 1920’s before moving on to an 11-year tenure as State Tax Assessor. Though raised in Farmington he was a North Anson pharmacist in the years leading up to his State House positions.

Following Holley as Senate President was, however, a lifelong Franklin County resident, Phillips attorney J. Blaine Morrison, who while leading the Senate in the 1929-30 sessions, was often mentioned as a potential gubernatorial candidate.

By 1937, Rangeley’s Reed Ellis – uncle to long-time Rangeley resident Paul Ellis – had risen to the position of majority floor leader of the Maine House of Representatives.

A birthplace of the GOP, Strong, also sent forth to Augusta our next legislative leader, F. Ardine Richardson. It was in his last year as House Speaker, l944, that Richardson became a full-fledged gubernatorial contender. The primary winner that year, however, was Senate President Horace Hildreth instead. Richardson, who was also master of the Maine State Grange, nevertheless continued to wield the gavel at home, presiding at Strong town meetings for 49 years until the mid-1970’s. He was also for many years the town’s first selectman.

A position that Reed Ellis occupied in the 1937-38 legislative session, majority leader, was also assumed by Farmington’s Peter Mills, just a decade later in 1947-48.

Also in the mid-20th century we have seen such local luminaries as Lloyd Morton (grandfather to Probate Judge Richard Morton), a one-time head of the State GOP Committee, become chair of the State Highway Commission and State Senator Clarence Crosby – who helped manage Burton Cross’s successful 1952 election as governor – achieve prominence both on the State Liquor and Highway Commission.

Rangeley’s Shelton Noyes – sometimes mentioned as a possible gubernatorial candidate – was GOP Leader of the State Senate for two years in the early 1960’s while Charlie Webster served two terms in the same position from 1989 to 1993, Charlie going on to wage a strong campaign himself for the GOP Gubernatorial nomination in 1994 (he lost to Susan Collins, who is now one of our U.S. Senators.) Like Morton, he later became state party GOP chair.

By no means to be left out is the current Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Commissioner Chandler Woodcock of Farmington. He was the GOP nominee for governor in 2006, finishing a strong second place in the race against then incumbent Governor Baldacci.

The election of a Farmington woman to be first in Franklin County to be elected governor leave Washington and Piscataquis as the only counties who have yet to see one of their own to become the state’s chief executive.
No doubt, their day will also come.

Paul H. Mills, brother of the governor-elect, is a Farmington attorney well known for his analyses and historical understanding of public affairs in Maine. He can be reached by e-mail: pmills@myfairpoint.net

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