JOHN R. McKERNAN JR. was born in Bangor, Maine. In 1970, he received a bachelor’s degree from Dartmouth College, where he was selected to the All-Ivy League Tennis Team. He joined the Army National Guard after graduation and then enrolled in the University of Maine Law School in 1971. While still a student, he was elected to the Maine House of Representatives. He received his law degree in 1974 and was elected to a second term in the Maine legislature, where his colleagues selected him as assistant Republican floor leader. He left the state legislature in 1976 and practiced law at a Portland law firm. He returned to public service and was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1982 and reelected in 1984. McKernan went on to be elected to consecutive terms as governor in 1986 and 1990.