Rep. Luchini stays in the running

State Rep. Louie Luchini is a local legend. A runner since his high school days, he has compiled a remarkable athletic record. He also has succeeded in races of a different kind; three of them won him a seat in the Maine legislature. Yet he is an unassuming fellow with a perpetual smile.

His family name is on the façade of a 1930s building on Ellsworth’s Main Street. His own name is on the lips of every local high school kid with a dream of becoming a runner. After all, Luchini was rated among the top 10 distance runners in the country three times, and he was named an NCAA All-American runner 11 times in college.

A graduate of Ellsworth High School and Stanford University, Luchini eventually made his way back to his hometown. The Ellsworth community had been “awesome” in its support, and he had a desire to “give something back” to the city that had stood with him over his long running career.

Though he never saw himself as a politician, he decided to give it a shot for one term and see how it went. A Democrat first elected in 2010, he is now up for re-election for a fourth term. He served one term on the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee, two as House Chair of Veterans and Legal Affairs. He appreciates the fact that it is a committee with a low level of partisanship.

Luchini describes himself as “the kind of guy who likes to do things, get things done.” So how does that square with state government service? He winced. “It’s frustrating. Inefficient. Everything starts late.” On top of that, he sees the legislature grow more partisan every year.

So what’s the upside? Luchini finds it very satisfying to be able to help solve problems in his district, big and small. To do so, he works on building relationships across the aisle.

On that subject, he learned an early lesson from his freshman committee chair, a Republican, who took him aside after a committee meeting and said, “You have to talk more.” The quiet-spoken Luchini was taken aback, but his chairman persisted. “I want to hear from you!” That was Mike Thibodeau, now Senate president.

Luchini’s touchstone for sanity is still running. He is the assistant coach of the Ellsworth High School cross-country team. More than once, a yellow school bus has pulled into the parking lot at the Maine State House on its way to a track meet. The kids would hop out for a quick pit stop, and when they re-boarded the bus, their coach, still in his Augusta coat and tie, would join them.

Even during the 2012 election season, he took time out to run the MDI Marathon, finishing first and setting a course record. Asked how he maintains his level of fitness in a sedentary workplace overflowing with pizza and donuts, he laughed. “I live like a monk! Eat, sleep, run.”

Running has taken Luchini far from home. Once a runner for Nike, he has trained and run in countries all over the world. His face is alight when he talks of the runners he has met of so many different nationalities. “They’re just the best guys,” he said. “We’re in touch all the time.”

His all-time favorite? Hands down, it’s Maine’s Joan Benoit Samuelson, an Olympic champion marathoner. “She has been a great mentor for me,” he said. Benoit has first-name-only status in the running world. “Joanie” told Luchini, “When you have had success, you have a responsibility to be humble and help others.” It is a code he lives by.

His committee experience has opened his eyes to what he sees as one of the most promising economic opportunities in Maine, craft breweries. The industry has doubled in the last three years, with an estimated impact of over $430 million. According to Luchini, it hits all the sweet spots.

It attracts younger people. It offers jobs for welders, electricians and pipefitters. It supports Maine agriculture, as farms expand to produce grains, hops and other raw materials for beer. “It’s important to preserve our legacy industries,” said Luchini, “but equally important to diversify.” Breweries do both, and they do it in every corner of the state.

He also was a strong supporter of the research and development bond, a bipartisan effort backed by Gov. Paul LePage. It will be of clear benefit to his community, as The Jackson Laboratory breaks ground this week on a new facility that will provide over 200 jobs in Ellsworth.

During the summer, he has more time to spend with constituents, but if you want to see him, said Luchini, “call me and ask. I don’t insulate myself.” His committee will require his presence in Augusta this month for confirmation hearings.

Luchini’s future beyond the legislature is uncertain. He would like to stay here, but it depends on being able to find work. In that regard, he is living the struggle legislators have been wrestling with for years, how to keep talented young people in Maine. This unique legislator, who twice qualified for the Olympic Trials, may well be the person to help find a way.

Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait worked for 25 years as a registered nurse at Mount Desert Island Hospital. She has served as a Bar Harbor town councilor and as an independent state senator from Hancock County.

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