Former state Sen. Tom Saviello celebrates with supporters of Yes on Question 1 after voters rejected Central Maine Power's proposed hydropower transmission corridor, Nov. 2, 2021, in Farmington. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

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In November 2021, former state Sen. Tom Saviello was celebrating at a Farmington beer garden after Maine voted to oppose the Central Maine Power Co. corridor.

Now, he is being paid to work on CMP’s side of a referendum on Maine’s electricity future.

Saviello, who lives in Wilton, was among the most visible corridor opponents during the yearslong political and legal struggle over the project. He was hired in April for $5,000 per month by Versant Power’s political group opposing a utility takeover, according to campaign finance disclosures filed this week.

Dark side?: As the corridor was winding through the courts, Saviello said he dove into the details of the takeover that has been years in the making and is being proposed by the political group Our Power, which wants Maine to buy out the infrastructure of the big utilities and put it under the control of an elected board.

In the end, he said he decided there were too many risks involved. That was before he was approached to work for Versant, he said.

When asked if he felt like he was joining the dark side, Saviello said that he had to work hard to put aside his long-standing antipathy for CMP, though he thinks both utilities have improved their communication during recent supply rate hikes.

“I’m sure a lot of people will be surprised and some people may be disappointed. Some people might be saying, ‘Well, it’s about time he woke up.’ Who knows?” he said. “I don’t care. I only care [about] what I think is the right thing to do.”

The context: While Saviello most recently served in the Legislature as a Republican, he is an atypical political character. He was a Democrat and an independent before that. Ahead of the 2022 campaign, he flirted with an independent gubernatorial run before seeing little room to work between Democratic Gov. Janet Mills and former Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican.

He was a popular state senator, winning his seat by big margins. He crossed party lines in 2018 as the best-known Republican officeholder to endorse both Mills and U.S. Rep. Jared Golden of Maine’s 2nd District, although Mills’ later support for the corridor put them at odds.

His job will be to speak to community groups and local political parties on behalf of Versant Power, he said. He joins an army of public figures and lobbyists working for the utilities, including former Rep. Charlotte Warren, D-Hallowell, and former Maine Senate Majority Leader Andre Cushing, R-Hampden, who were mentioned in a recent Portland Press Herald article on the issue.

They are part of a massive multi-front campaign between CMP and Versant that has spent more than $17.1 million against just $733,000 from Our Power. The anti-corridor campaign that Saviello helped lead was well-funded by CMP’s rivals for market share in the region, and that isn’t happening for supporters of the utility switch.

What’s next: Saviello is just one person, and he is getting paid. It’s hard to read much into his decision. But he has always been an astute observer of Maine’s political winds. His move to join the utilities is a sign that opposition to the corridor may not equal support for the utility takeover with the campaign winding down to the last few months.

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after time at the Kennebec Journal. He lives in Augusta, graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and has a master's degree from the University...