AUGUSTA — The man who led Gov. Paul LePage’s political arm is the Maine Republican Party’s new executive director.
Beth O’Connor, the state party’s vice chair, said Monday that Jason Savage, formerly the executive director of Maine People Before Politics, a group that spawned from the team that transitioned LePage from governor-elect to governor after the 2010 election, started work with the party on Friday.
The state party’s former chairman, Charlie Webster, said LePage and his allies asked that Savage be installed as executive director of the party just after his election, but the chairman said no.
Savage’s hiring, announced by the party over the weekend on Facebook, highlights a difference in the party’s trajectory: a swing toward LePage insiders in the run-up to an expected re-election bid in 2014.
“We have a lot of work to do before we get to that point,” he said.
Savage’s hire is an interesting political development in itself. He’s a tireless LePage advocate, especially in social media.
Under his leadership, Maine People Before Politics published reports on perceived media bias and legislators’ voting records and issued scathing press releases hitting the governor’s opponents and ones highlighting his policies. Brent Littlefield, LePage’s political adviser and the strategic director at Maine People Before Politics, said the organization will likely continue in similar form.
Webster, the former party chairman, said in December that LePage “made clear that his people were going to run the party” days after the election.
LePage “really wanted to be more involved in the operation of the party than what I was willing,” Webster said Monday. “I felt people who I hired would be loyal to me and not to any particular campaign.”
Littlefield wouldn’t comment on Webster’s remarks, while Savage said rumors on that subject were way overblown.
“I may have been willing to work with the party, but it didn’t work out that way,” he said.
O’Connor said, unlike Webster, she didn’t fear the party getting too close to LePage.
“One of our goals is to hopefully get Gov. LePage re-elected so we don’t have to run someone that doesn’t have the experience,” she said. “We knew (Savage) had the skills, he’s young, he’s got a lot of get-up-and-go and we all thought he’d be a great fit. There was no dissension in the ranks.”
Savage said he worked at Marden’s Surplus and Salvage about 10 years in various roles until early 2011, including as information technology director.
That’s where he met LePage, who was general manager of the chain of discount stores from 1996 until after his election. Savage volunteered and worked for LePage’s campaign in 2010. State records show he was paid $4,000 in salary, plus some mileage reimbursement.
Savage said most of that was essentially a reimbursement for time and money, as he spent much of his spare time working for LePage’s election.
Littlefield said Savage was one of LePage’s earliest confidants as he considered his run for governor and shares the governor’s conservative “core convictions.”
“Jason has a keen political mind and he’s always had an active interest in politics,” Littlefield said. “I think Jason will work very, very hard to make sure the positive messages about changes that have been made to improve Maine’s economy gets out.”
O’Connor said Savage has demonstrated an ability to work with all types of Republicans — from establishment types to activists, and party unity will be critical in 2014, when U.S. Sen. Susan Collins also is due up for re-election with LePage.
“One thing that’s really important for the Republican Party is to be welcoming to people who share common, core beliefs,” Savage said. “We stand for responsible government, strong families and bigger paychecks.”
Michael Shepherd — 370-7652