THE ZEUS OF FRANKLIN COUNTY
That would be me. It turns out that I have the power to raise what is being called a “spits-storm” (readers are free to substitute a consonant if they wish) in Franklin County. Now I propose to quell it by a single Zeus-like gesture, i.e., this column.
At its deepest level this odd episode reflects the difference between those who believe in building a political party from its foundations up, or from a weathervane down. I prefer the latter, referring to foundations constructed of clear principles. I’m a Republican because I believe that conservative principles find a home in that party. I believe these principles are incompatible with continuous expansion of government dependence, incessant aggrandizement of government at the expense of civil society, and the wholesale purchase of votes regardless of the fiscal consequences.
I agree with governor LePage that Medicaid expansion violates all of these principles.
This brings us to Senator Tom Saviello, whose District 17 (formerly District 18) centers in Franklin County. Tom was first elected to the House as a Democrat, switched to “Independent” and then ran for the Maine senate as a Republican. He is a skilled and energetic campaigner, even a model politician in many ways. Less clever and dedicated candidates show up at public suppers to shake hands. He works in the kitchen where he meets and mingles with the kind of people, volunteers and organizers, who influence other people in their communities. He combs through the newspapers for references to citizens in his district, or their children; cuts out the items and sends them along with little notes. He boasts of being the King of Legislative Sentiments. Your kid wins a tiddly-winks tournament in District 17 and you can expect a testimony from Maine’s legislature. In short Tom Saviello spares no effort to convince his constituents that he really cares about them—each and every one. More, he has an uncanny ability to talk with someone as if he agrees with them even when he does not.
There’s a persistent rumor that a guy up in Strong named Elmore Leonard sneezed on October 23, 2012 and on October 25 received a postcard reading “Dear Elmore, Gesundheit. Sincerely, Tom Saviello.” I’ve never confirmed this rumor or even determined whether there’s an Elmore anything in Strong. Still the story is at least believable.
Our senator has a major defect. He regards a political principle like a cobra regards a mongoose. He doesn’t know quite what it is, but it fills him with dread. He suspects that having political principles is the same thing as having an “ideology.” He can’t define the word, but he knows that “ideologue” is one of the nastiest insults in the political propagandist’s lexicon.
Despite my own ideology, I’ve learned a degree of tolerance towards many specimens in the political menagerie. I’m even a “Facebook Friend” of Egregiously Evil Ethan Strimling. As I told the lad back in 2005, when Sen. Joe Perry introduced us, I didn’t socialize much with blood-thirsty Bolsheviks, but that was not reason not to be civil. He seemed to agree since he invited me to join him in FB friendship.
Thus it was that I signed Tom Saviello’s nomination petitions last month and wrote him a five dollar check so he can claim his “Clean Election” funding. He votes with the Republican caucus about seventy percent of the time—about twenty percent on the really important, and politically dangerous, issues. I figure any Democrat was bound to be worse.
However, Tom Saviello’s apparent determination to vote with the Democrats to override a gubernatorial veto of Medicaid expansion overburdened my habitual tolerance. I decided to remind him that a politician running as a Republican ought to pay more attention to his supposed base.
Here’s the initial Timeline for the Franklin County Spits-storm.
Thursday morning, February 6, The Brickyard Café in West Farmington: I propose to circulate senate Disrict 17 petitions in the name of a third party. He declines the honor. So I declare my intention to circulate the petitions with my own name.
Thursday Afternoon, The Secretary of State’s Office: I pick up some nomination petitions.
Evening of the same day, somewhere in Franklin County: an Un-named Source tells the senator that John Frary is planning to run against him in a primary. Tom almost instantly declares that if this threat materializes he will abandon his GOP identification and go back to “unenrolled.”
So it came to pass that the name John Frary and a thin sheaf of blank petitions precipitated a blind panic in our county’s leading elective officer with a storm to follow as a number of people urged me to abandon the “challenge” while others despaired for the future of the Republic if this Maine senate seat fell into the hands of the Democrats.
No one with a taste for farce could fail to enjoy this sequence of events, but the silly nonsense begins to elide into serious nonsense. My FBF Ethan Strimling trumpets that I’m an agent of the Tea Party assigned to punish a moderate Republican. The rumor is afoot that the governor put me up to torpedoing poor Tom. Word reaches me that some potential legislative candidates are shying away because they see this episode as evidence of a party split.
It’s true that I have spoken at a number off Tea Party rallies, but no TP activist has spoken to me, even after word got around about a primary challenge. Remember this: Strimling has never attended a TP rally or meeting, and has probably never spent five minutes talking to a TP activist. Almost all his information about the Tea Party comes from other people who are as ignorant as he is.
The claim that the governor is behind my brief excursion into primary politics feeds into the Maine media’s favorite meme about the Beast of the Blaine House trampling out the Grapes of Wrath. There’s no way to curb journalistic hostility, but no need to feed it.
I can understand the reluctance of potential candidates to commit to a party whose energies appear expended on internal conflict.
These are the considerations that persuade me to announce that the Frary Juggernaut, having rolled about eighteen inches, has now come to rest. My best hope was to deter Saviello from voting to override a veto of Medicaid expansion, but this was always a highly speculative effort. The man has other fears to contend with. Still, his panic at the mere hint of being forced to justify himself to Republican voters in a Republican primary tells us something kind of interesting....