AUGUSTA – Democratic House leaders Friday played down the potential impact of a decision by a representative to quit their party and go independent, a move that further narrows the already-close partisan breakdown in the House.
Rep. Thomas Saviello of Wilton said he decided to drop his Democratic affiliation after consulting with family and friends.
Saviello said the decision to drop his party registration and become independent is best for his constituents and the rural area he represents.
“We have special challenges and needs in District 90 that need to be talked about and addressed in Augusta. I feel this change is the best way to get our voices heard,” said Saviello.
With Saviello’s departure from their ranks, Democrats have a narrow two-seat edge over the Republicans – 75 to 73 – with one Green party and two unenrolled members in the House.
It leaves those unconnected to major parties as swing votes in the chamber.
The Senate remains under the control of Democrats, who hold 19 seats to the Republicans’ 16.
The second-term lawmaker said he’s become “increasingly concerned about the partisan nature of the Legislature,” saying that he has voted for many Democratic-backed budgets, but believes that “there were good ideas that may have been passed up in the need to pass the budget.”
“I have always been taught a team is the sum of all its members, and that teamwork can make the final product better. I am not sure that happens all the time in Augusta,” Saviello said.
House Majority Leader Glenn Cummings of Portland said he respects Saviello’s decision, but said it would do little to change outcomes of votes in the House.
“Tom has always been independent by nature, and that has certainly been reflected in his voting record and in many key votes,” said the Democratic floor leader.
Cummings said he hopes to work with Saviello in the future, a sentiment echoed by Democratic House Speaker John Richardson, D-Brunswick.
Richardson praised Saviello as “a dedicated advocate for the people of his district” and invited him to join the Democratic caucus in discussing policy, as he said other independents have done.
Republican House leaders were unavailable on Friday through their State House offices, but a GOP Senate leader applauded Saviello. “I wish him well,” said Senate Minority Leader Paul Davis, R-Sangerville.
Davis said that with Saviello going independent, he and the other unenrolled or Green House members get “a little more clout either way” in close votes.
In addition to Wilton, Saviello’s district covers Avon, Strong, Temple, New Vineyard, Phillips and some unorganized townships. Saviello serves on the Natural Resources Committee.
As a legislator and International Paper Co.’s environmental, health and safety manager, Saviello has been outspoken on bills dealing with water quality in Maine rivers.
He opposed an attempt to overturn a state law allowing a section of the Androscoggin and a section of the St. Croix to meet lower environmental standards than all other Maine rivers.