Tom Saviello, a Wilton selectperson, former state senator and prominent NECEC-corridor opponent, is considering a run for governor in the 2022 November Election. Saviello, pictured helping a customer at his Farmington shop The Mercantile, would run as an independent. In mid-December, Saviello said he’s still parsing through the issues that would be on his platform. Kay Neufeld/Franklin Journal

FARMINGTON — In July, Tom Saviello, a Wilton Selectperson, prominent New England Clean Energy Connect-corridor opponent and former District 17 state senator posted to Facebook that he was “considering a run for governor.”

The why: because Saviello is “worried about the future” of Maine, he said in a video with the backdrop of the NECEC corridor clearing in Wilton.

Saviello said in the video that he has “been watching from afar as foreign governments, foreign entities and the lobby have more to say in Maine than we do as Mainers.”

“I plan to watch carefully and make my final decision after the Nov. 2 election,” Saviello said. “Stay tuned.”

Six months since that announcement — and over two months after Maine voters banned the corridor in the Nov. 2 election — Saviello will soon reach a decision on a gubernatorial run.

Saviello spoke with the Franklin Journal in mid December while sitting atop his throne (the stool behind the checkout counter of his Farmington shop, the Mercantile). Saviello talked about his reasons for running, what his platform may look like and his takes on some of the policies that will dominate Maine’s 2022 gubernatorial election.

As of late, Saviello is most known for being an outspoken opponent of the NECEC corridor, a $1 billion hydropower transmission line that would cut through 145 miles of forest in Western Maine.

Saviello was also the lead petitioner on Referendum Question 1 in the Nov. 2 election — which Maine voters approved to effectively ban the corridor. He considers himself “the human encyclopedia on the CMP corridor.”

The corridor’s future still remains to be seen. On Dec. 17, 2021, a Maine judge denied NECEC a request to block the initiative that would allow the developer to resume construction on the transmission line. However, further litigation is in the courts to block the initiative and allow the corridor to survive.

This uncertain future is, in part, why Saviello wants to run.

“There are no candidates that are running right now that are anti-corridor,” Saviello said.

That leads to Saviello’s issues with the most prominent candidates of the moment: current Democrat Gov. Janet Mills and former Republican Gov. Paul LePage.

“LePage’s ideas are good ideas, but his presentation and follow through are terrible,” Saviello said. “He’s a lot like Trump, he even said it himself.”

He referenced LePage’s quote “I was Donald Trump before Donald Trump became popular.”

As for Mills, Saviello said he was “disappointed” when the governor stated she was in favor of the corridor.

“I think she should have stayed out of [the debate on the corridor],” he said. “I think she underestimated the number of people that were going to vote against the thing.”

Mills was (and still is) a major supporter of the corridor and NECEC’s claims that it would further Maine’s transition to clean-energy sources.

He was further disappointed with Mills’ initial reaction to the approval of the referendum question. Saviello said he took issue with her statement choosing to defer to the courts, rather than “congratulate all of those who came out to vote in a non-election year … That’s important because people took time to go cast their ballots.”

On Nov. 19, Mills certified the election and wrote to NECEC asking that they halt construction while it remains in litigation.

“Your decision to forge ahead heedless of the clear will of Maine voters and the pending questions before the court and DEP I believe is disrespectful to Maine people,” Mills wrote to NECEC CEO and President Thorn Dickinson.

Saviello, who was a Republican while in the legislature, said he would run as an independent.

“I was always independent,” Saviello said. “The way the Republican Party is headed right now is not the Republican Party of my father.

“[Independent, third-party candidates] bring someone who’s not beholden to a party” into government, Saviello believes. “One of the things you realize when you’re in the legislature is that today’s friends are tomorrow’s enemies are tomorrow’s friend.”

This move is a highly controversial one. Typically, when a candidate announces a decision to run as an independent, voters express concern that said candidate can influence elections by taking away votes from the major-party nominees.

With Saviello’s potential run, this is no different. On the initial post announcing his consideration, a couple of commenters raised concerns that a moderate, independent candidate like Saviello could result in four-to-eight more years of LePage.

“No, I urge you not to run,” wrote one commenter. “Lots of people believed in both Eliot Cutler and Mike Michaud, and as a result, we had eight years of [Paul LePage]. Please don’t run.”

History does show that third-party candidates can steer the direction of, or even “determine” an election (see the 2016, 2000 and 1992 presidential elections, to name a few examples).

But in Maine — a state with rank-choice voting, an independent U.S. senator (Sen. Angus King) and a number of independent politicians in the legislature — that outcome is perhaps less certain.

Saviello served in the legislature as a Republican. However, he likened his views and behavior as a politician to being a “blue-dog democrat” like Joe Manchin. Saviello views Manchin (and the principle of a “blue-dog democrat”) as someone in a specific party who votes with reason based on what he believes would benefit his constituents (though that belief on Manchin, who has “long-standing financial ties to the coal industry” varies depending on who you ask).

“[A blue-dog democrat] is somebody that takes everything into consideration,” Saviello said. “The party is important, but it’s not the driving factor.

“I was always one of a few [in the legislature] that voted what he or she felt was the right thing to do for the state,” he said. “I had a hierarchy: looking at my constituents, how does it affect them, how did I hear from them?; and how I personally felt was at the bottom [of the hierarchy].”

Simply put, he believes “independent can get it done.”

As governor, Saviello said one of his priorities would be to collaborate with the Maine Legislature. This priority arose from his experiences as a state senator representing Franklin County and parts of Kennebec.

Saviello feels that LePage’s “my way or the highway” methods (as he puts it) do not positively impact the legislature or the state, based on his experiences in office.

“I don’t believe the legislature has been brought into the room, both parties, to have conversations about the budget,” he said. ” I believe that if you got together, and you started having conversations about [for example] broad budget pieces with your staff first, and then with the different legislators … it would get passed faster.”

Saviello feels that collaboration with the legislature amplifies the will of the people, “identifies roadblocks,” and allows the legislature and governor to work together as allies.

“[LePage] just didn’t ask [the legislature]. He never came to us,” Saviello said.

But Saviello’s stance on specific issues and policies is still to be determined, he said.

Saviello has a list of issues he is either currently informed on or knows would take higher priority on his platform.

These issues include, but are not limited to: reducing property taxes; the environment; sorting out “the mess” of the Department of Health and Human Services and Child Protective Services; finding preventative solutions to issues like Maine’s opioid and drug-overdose crisis; expanding broadband access and cell phone coverage in rural areas; and the CMP corridor, of course, as well as how it impacts Indigenous communities.

He’s still unsure about where he stands, how he’ll handle certain issues, including: universal healthcare; the fight between fishermen and politicians, clean-energy companies over windmill farms off the coast of Maine; and Indigenous sovereignty, including the Land Back movement.

Saviello admitted he still needed further education on some of the other major issues that impact Mainers — particularly those that impact younger generations, people of color, Indigenous tribal communities and refugees and immigrants — who are a growing population in Maine.

Saviello said he would spend the next couple months (before he announces his decision) and the rest of the campaign developing a platform and concrete stances on the issues.

He described that platform development as a “journey” where he’d learn more about the issues that impact Maine and how residents feel about them.

“I’d put these people in place, in the best and the brightest in what they do, and let them share with me what they think should be done,” Saviello said. “You’ve got to bring the people that know.

“I’d bring in these experts to give me some guidance, some advice on what should we do. And then I would take that guidance and advice and and figure out what the best way to go is,” Saviello said.

In addressing all of these issues, Saviello would “like Maine to be a place that the children of Maine, if they want to go on their adventure in life, like my two kids, they can do that and come back to Maine and find a place to live,” work, etc.

Ultimately, Saviello said his decision hinges on what happens with the NECEC corridor over the next couple of weeks. With the corridor’s future as his priority, it gives Saviello pause to consider “do I have time to go out and do a good job?”

He anticipates announcing his decision sometime in early February.

“I’m keeping all my options open,” Saviello said. “Because at the end of the day, people are looking for someone else [other than LePage or Mills] to vote for.”

Ultimately, Saviello believes he has “the background and experiences” to “help [Mainers] make things happen.”

Despite concerns of third-party candidates, Saviello is confident that if he ran and “worked hard,” he’d have a fair chance at winning.

“Maine has to change for the time,” Saviello said. And he thinks he could be the right man to lead that charge.

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