Sen. Saviello’s support for Medicaid expansion could pull Prof. John Frary into primary battle

John Frary. Bangor Daily News/John Clarke Russ

John Frary. Bangor Daily News/John Clarke Russ

John Frary of Farmington, who is perhaps one of the most colorful and outspoken conservative personalities in Maine, said Monday that he is considering launching a Republican primary challenge against Sen. Thomas Saviello, R-Wilton for the Senate District 18 seat.

If you have any doubt in my assertion that Frary is a colorful character, take a spin through his website.

Frary, 73, a retired college history professor, elevated his profile in 2008 when he ran unsuccessfully for the 2nd Congressional District seat now occupied by Democrat Mike Michaud. Known for his boisterous and withering criticisms of liberal politicians, Frary said Monday that he never expected to defeat Michaud, who won the election by a nearly 2-to-1 margin.

“Nobody expected me to win and I did not wish to win and go down to Washington,” said Frary. “The thing is, I can say anything I wish to say in a campaign.”

What Frary is saying in this (potential) campaign is that he’s in it because of Saviello’s votes last year in favor of expanding Medicaid in Maine and the probability that Saviello will repeat his votes in favor of the expansion this year. Saviello was one of three Republican Senators who voted in favor of Medicaid expansion last June.

“I don’t think this is a good thing to do,” said  Frary. “It’s digging a deep hole deeper.”

Sen. Tom Saviello. Photo courtesy of Maine Senate.

Sen. Tom Saviello. Photo courtesy of Maine Senate.

Saviello might be difficult to beat, based on his past election results, which is something Frary readily admits. He served four terms in the Maine House of Representatives before being elected to the Maine Senate in 2010 with 60 percent of the vote and again in 2012 with 62 percent. Saviello did not have a primary challenger in either of those elections.

Saviello said Wednesday that he doesn’t fault Frary for exercising his constitutional right to run for office, but added that he won’t apologize for his Medicaid expansion votes, past or future.

“I support the expansion and will continue to,” he wrote in response to emailed questions. “I believe it is the best thing for the district, our hospitals and the people who live here.”

Saviello can safely be called a moderate Republican. In 2005, he switched his party affiliation from Democrat to independent, and four years later, he joined the GOP for his first Senate run.

Ryan Morgan, chairman of the Franklin County Republican Committee, said Republicans in the district, which includes parts of Franklin, Somerset and Kennebec Counties, will line up behind whichever candidate wins the primary. Morgan said he respects both Saviello and Frary, but that Frary faces an “uphill battle” against Saviello because of Saviello’s long history of community service. Morgan, who is also a Farmington selectman, added that Republicans in the county are split on the issue of Medicaid expansion and that he personally is in favor of it.

“It’s a fine line for sure,” said Morgan. “One of our biggest employers is Franklin Memorial Hospital. … That particular hospital has laid off a couple hundred people and they have a couple million in charity care. Some people are adamantly against it because they see it as an expansion of welfare and some people see it as something that just has to be done.”

Primary candidates for the Maine Senate must collect between 100 and 150 signatures to appear on the ballot. Frary said he started that process last week and will make a definitive decision about his involvement in the race soon.

Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.