When her 2005 Subaru descends the Barrett Hill Road to the intersection of Route 17 in Union, Christine Savage will try to turn left toward Rockland. But the car will try to turn right to Augusta, as it always has in January, when the Legislature is in session.
But after 14 years at the State House, Savage, 77, has been termed out. Her work there is done.
“I don’t envy them, the work they will have to do in the Appropriations Committee,” Savage said. Maine, like most states, is facing an overwhelming shortfall in revenues as the economy weakens.
Savage always concentrated her work on the Transportation Committee. She takes pride in her work to approve the state’s seat belt law and her bill to toughen regulations for teenage drivers.
Her career as a town manager, then legislator, was not exactly an accident, but it was hardly planned.
Her late husband, Elmer “Bud” Savage, worked as town manager in Camden and Searsport. When her husband was working in Camden, around 1974, there were problems in the bookkeeping department. “I would go in every few days, unpaid, and help out. The selectmen wanted to hire me full time but I said it would never work out with Bud as town manager. But Selectman Charlie Lowe said, ‘He won’t be hiring you, we will. You are not working for him. You are working for us.’ That’s how I started,” she said.
She worked out so well that she ended up as acting town manager in Camden when her husband retired, even reviewing the 100 applicants for the job. “Camden was a popular town and we got applications from as far away as California,” she said.
The plan was to join her husband in retirement, when the phone rang. It was a selectman from the town of Warren, where they had something like 11 managers in the previous decade. “It was sort of a revolving door. Someone thought they should be running the town,” she said.
Savage didn’t want or need the job. But selectmen asked her to come in to put the town “on an even keel.”
After five years there, she was perfectly happy and considered retirement once more when that phone rang again. It was representatives of state Republican leadership and they wanted her to run for the House against the Democrat incumbent, Jim Bowers. Savage was reluctant, but her husband, who had served a term in the House said, “You certainly like to talk and that’s what the job is.”
Through three terms in the House and four more in the Senate, Savage has been talking the major issues of the day.
As a retired reporter, I was once asked if I would run against Savage. First of all, I spend much too much time in Florida during the session. Secondly, I knew that running against the unbeatable, grandmotherly Savage was a waste of time. What would the issue be to use against her?
Democrat Judy Powers sought an issue against Savage when they opposed each other for the Senate seat vacated by Chellie Pingree. The Democrats circulated a pamphlet with a battered woman on the cover and charged that Savage failed to enact laws to protect women. The inside page had a gun pointed at Savage’s head. Bowers, then the Democratic party chairman, called Savage to apologize, then resigned over the pamphlet, which had his name on it.
Powers raised $60,000 for the race, an unprecedented sum at the time. Because of the reaction from the pamphlet, Savage managed to raise $33,000, then win the race by about 1,400 votes, she remembered.
The current problem with the state budget stems from “the good old days” when there were routine budget surpluses, she said. “Everyone wanted their pet project, their pet programs. That’s why we are in a tussle now,” she said. Now that people are driving less, the tax revenue to the Department of Transportation has shrunk, and the state is not keeping pace with road and bridge construction projects, she said.
“If you are going to be termed out, this is a good time,” she said of the budget mess.
Now, if she can ever get that Subaru from driving back to the State House, Savage plans to enjoy the stunning view from her Barrett Hill castle, then make up for lost vacation time, first on a cruise, then on a trip to Israel, assuming that the rockets have stopped by then.
Those are the current plans. Unless that damned phone rings again.
Send complaints and compliments to Emmet Meara at firstname.lastname@example.org.