Sen. Tom Saviello, R-Wilton, is seeking re-election to continue what he says has been positive work for the constituents of District 18.

His Democratic challenger from Rangeley, Joanne Dunlap, said she disagreed with many of her opponent’s votes in the last session.

Senate District 18 is among the largest legislative areas in the state — serving 34 communities, including the Kennebec County towns of Belgrade, Fayette, Mount Vernon, Readfield, Rome, Vienna and Wayne, the Somerset County communities of Mercer and Smithfield, and Franklin County communities such as Carrabassett Valley, Farmington, Rangeley, Strong and Wilton.

Saviello, 62, said he thinks his work, along with the rest of the 125th Legislature’s, has helped improve the lives of people in his district and the state, particularly with efforts to help small businesses grow. Saviello praised L.D. 1, a broad regulatory reform measure signed into law last year, for eliminating excessive business regulations and establishing a small-business advocate in the Department of the Secretary of State.

Although Saviello thinks the last Legislature did well, he said it’s important for the next one to evaluate what was passed in the last session.

“We did some real big changes,” he said. “How are they working? Do we need to modify them, tweak them?”

Dunlap, 69, a retired teacher who owns Mo’s Variety in Rangeley, said she doesn’t see herself as a politician and isn’t afraid to “tell it like it is.”

“I’m running for office primarily because I’m not particularly happy with the way my opponent is voting. I feel somebody could do a better job, generally, for the people,” said Dunlap, who is vice chairwoman of the Franklin County Democratic Committee and a trustee of Rangeley Public Library.

Dunlap said she heard from a number of people who also were dissatisfied with Saviello’s voting record and asked her to run.

She disagrees with several of Saviello’s votes, including his support for the Maine health insurance overhaul, changes to what is now the Land Use Planning Commission and what Dunlap said were votes to restrict abortions.

She takes particular issue with the change in the insurance rate structure that lets an insurance company charge more to the elderly and those living in rural areas. Dunlap said the changes allowed “young people in Portland to get a better deal while everyone else gets a worse deal.”

Saviello admitted that some people have seen increases, but he said those increases were significantly less than in years before. He said the portion of the bill that is most important — allowing Mainers to buy insurance plans from out-of-state companies — won’t take effect in 2013. This change, he said, will provide better competition and improve plans offered by Maine insurers.

Dunlap said a few failed bills Saviello supported — requiring a 24-hour waiting period before an abortion, providing educational materials to any woman before she has an abortion and creating crimes of murder and assault against unborn babies — were restrictive toward abortion. She said the waiting period and instructional materials would have created unnecessary impediments for women who already had made a difficult decision.

Saviello disputed that any of these bills would have restricted abortion and said he voted against a bill that would have put increased restrictions on minors trying to get abortions. He said he voted in favor of the bill creating crimes against unborn babies to help curb domestic violence.

Saviello said that if he is re-elected, he will continue his work in examining how smaller farms are overburdened by regulations written for large-scale commercial farms. Saviello said he’s looking to see what rules can be modified to continue protecting the public while allowing small farms to survive. One way would be to create a tiered system of regulations with a less restrictive set of rules for farms generating less than $10,000 in annual income, he said, similar to a law in New Hampshire.

As an example of an unnecessary restriction, Saviello spoke of a woman in his district who makes cheese in her home and sells it to individuals. She’s required to do it in a space separate from her home kitchen, so she’s built an enclosed kitchen within her kitchen for cheese-making, he said.

“That’s the kind of thing I want to look at from a small farm perspective that would make it easier for them to do business,” Saviello said.

Another point of disagreement between the candidates is about Maine charter schools, which are free, publicly funded schools relieved of some of the regulations and restrictions placed on traditional public schools. They may offer innovative or alternative educational programs.

Saviello voted in favor of establishing charter schools in Maine — the state’s first ones recently opened in Cornville and at Good Will-Hinckley in Fairfield — while Dunlap vehemently opposes the action. Dunlap said the movement toward charter schools should be “cut off at the knees, or maybe the ankles.”

Allowing students to choose a different school for additional academic opportunities may sound wonderful, Dunlap said, but the charter schools are often expensive and benefit a small number of students at the expense of public schools. Dunlap said they’ll lead to the most gifted students being “cherry-picked” out of public schools.

She said using taxpayers to pay for private schooling is “inappropriate.”

Saviello said the bill allowing charter schools in Maine was designed to prevent rejection of students based on grounds of income level or academic ability.

“Anybody and everybody, as long as they’re in the public school district, can apply,” he said.

Paul Koenig — 621-5663
[email protected]