State Sen. Tom Saviello, Kennebec Journal photo
I like Tom Saviello. He is a man after my own heart.
He was a Democrat, then an Independent and now a moderate Republican.
He hails from western Maine, and his state senate district includes my birthplace of Farmington.
My mother’s family has lived in the Farmington-Wilton area for generations. That landscape is known to produce some of Maine’s finest and hardest working people; folks with a keen sense of humor and a clever wit.
In fact, Farmington is the birthplace of Chester Greenwood, the man who invented earmuffs.
In western Maine, common sense is a prerequisite for survival, and Saviello has loads of common sense.
He is pragmatic, personable and about as decent a man as you could hope to find. Sounds like a great guy, right?
Wrong, at least for some who prefer to sit on the lunatic edge of the Republican Party.
You see, Tom Saviello is the worst of the worst simply because he is a moderate. Christ, he was once a Democrat. How can you trust such a guy?
If you’re a Republican you had better take an oath to the Tea Party and its fundamentalist agenda if you want to get elected or even re-elected.
You can see such a dynamic playing out on the national stage, where Republicans such as John Boehner or Mitch McConnell are being taken to task by swaths of people who believe that Barack Obama is the anti-Christ, there is no such thing as climate change, and that all immigrants should be deported because there is a high probability that they will vote for Democrats if given the chance.
Now, I don’t know where Saviello stands on climate change or immigration reform. Heck, he may or may not believe that President Obama is the anti-Christ. But I do know this: He is not Republican enough for the Tea Party.
History repeats itself
It was only two years ago when Maine Republicans shot themselves in the foot, giving up a U.S. Senate seat by applauding a hard-right primary challenge to U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe.
Snowe’s crime? She served on the Senate Finance Committee and voted in favor of sending the Affordable Care Act to the Senate floor for further debate and promised tweaks.
Ultimately, Snowe stood shoulder to shoulder with every other Republican and voted against passage of Obamacare, but the damage had been done. Suddenly she was facing a three-way primary, including two candidates who said she was not conservative enough.
I spoke on behalf of Snowe at Biddeford’s 2012 Republican caucus (Yes, there is such a thing).
I heard and felt the jeers from the crowd. (Yes, there was a crowd)
Only days later, Snowe abruptly announced that she would not seek another term to complement her distinguished political career. She was done. She blamed partisan gridlock in Washington, but a lot of us didn’t buy her rationale. I was angry that she was leaving. The Republican Party was about to endure two painful losses. 1.) the loss of a great and principled stateswoman who represented her party well, and 2.) a much needed seat in the U.S. Senate.
Snowe’s seat was taken by Democrat . . .err…Independent Angus King.
Now two years later, this same dynamic is playing out at the legislative level.
Earlier this month, John Frary, a retired college professor and right-wing darling, announced that he would challenge Saviello in the District 18 Republican Primary.
Saviello was obviously frustrated by that announcement, and threatened to walk away from the GOP if any other member of his party had the temerity to challenge him, according to political pundit Ethan Strimling in his Agree to Disagree blog at the Bangor Daily News.
Strimling goes on to speculate that hard-right Republicans are angry with Saviello’s moderate track record. He actually voted to override several of Republican Governor Paul LePage’s vetoes and voted to expand Medicaid.
Strimling ends his analysis this way: “. . . it [the potential challenge of Saviello] is clearly reflective of an increasingly intolerant Republican Party.”
First, you need to take Strimling with a grain of salt. He is a partisan Democrat. It his mission (second to looking good on television) to make his own party look good and Republicans look like “knuckle draggers.”
Secondly, it remains a bit unclear whether Frary, a man who routinely amuses himself with his own wit, will actually enter the race in an attempt to unseat Saviello.
But the following points should be clear:
If Saviello walks away from his party simply because he is being challenged, let me be the first to show him the door. There is no need to act like a petulant two-year-old, especially after you have spent a lifetime building a strong track record of public service and strong character. You need to stand up to bullies, not walk away.
Despite his partisan credentials, Ethan Strimling is on point when he says the GOP is in trouble if it can’t afford some flexibility in its own ranks. Democrats were not crazy about Mike Michaud’s pro-life stance, but they didn’t primary him. Instead, they waited for him to eventually change his position.
The GOP used to be a big tent party, but it seems increasingly unwilling to lease space to anyone who dares challenge an increasingly bizarre list of ideological demands foisted upon the platform by the Tea Party.
It well past time for common-sense Republicans to stand up and take their party back. Otherwise what we saw happen with Snowe’s seat will become more of a trend.
And to my Republican friends, how’s Angus King working out for you?