FARMINGTON — Conversations with Maine political leaders that expose students to who they are and what they are doing is the goal behind their visits to a political science class at the University of Maine at Farmington.

State Sen. Tom Saviello was teaching environmental regulations and forestry classes when the university asked him to teach political science, Saviello thought he could show students what happened behind the scenes and tell the “war stories” of his experience in Maine politics.

He never took a political science course and didn’t even consider politics when planning his own career goals, he said.

He also thought about what he could do to expose these students to the people actually in politics, who they are, what makes them different and what’s really going on, he said.

In previous classes, he invited leaders of parties, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and state gubernatorial candidates. Eleven out of 23 candidates came to the class, he said. This year he focused on people who held positions within state politics such as attorney general or secretary of state.

Although unplanned, four of the invited guests this spring turned out to be candidates vying for U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe’s seat.

He gives them an hour to talk about their lives, answer questions and share as they want. The class is open to the public and is sponsored by the College Republicans and Political Science Club.

Last week it was Maine Attorney General William Schneider’s turn to share his life experiences with the class before tackling their questions on his views and beliefs as a candidate for Snowe’s seat.

A West Point graduate who went on to become a Green Beret, he described missions jumping from planes, swimming miles to enter foreign lands on and serving with experts who all thought they were making a contribution to national security, he said.

“In the fraction of a second, life can take a 90-degree turn,” he said when telling students about the car accident that broke his back and left him paralyzed.

From there he rebuilt his life, forming a company specializing in developing security systems. Then he moved to Maine and on to law school. He spent time as a drug prosecutor in Portland and Lewiston, giving that up to run for Legislature.

After the September 2001 terrorist attacks, he became Maine’s terrorism coordinator because it was the right thing to do, he said. 

He then ran for Attorney General, which is elected by the Legislature that he tries to keep non-partisan, not beholden to the governor, any party or elected official, he said.

He described the various branches of his department that employs about 110 attorneys and that many staff  before students asked his views on issues from gay marriage to medical marijuana and what makes him different from the other candidates running in the June primary vote for Snowe’s seat.

His answer acknowledged the story of his life that he had just told, the experience and qualifications and the ability to start a new life in the midst of life’s challenges and difficulties, he said.

There are no tests for the 27 students in the class. They do four class presentations, which require the study of Maine politics.  They also are exposed to these relaxed conversations with people such as U.S. Rep. Michael Michaud, former Secretary of State Matt Dunlap and candidate Jon Hinck.

Part of their work is to be prepared for the speaker, know current events and have fun with it while learning something more about state politics, Saviello said.

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