by Rob Roper
Brian Savage (R-Swanton) is half way through his second term in the Vermont House of Representatives, and moving up the ladder fast. On November 10, Savage’s colleagues elected the 55 year old to be the Assistant Leader of the Republican caucus, filling a spot opened when Representative Patti Komline (R-Dorset) stepped down from the post.
Savage’s private sector experience includes thirty-three years in banking and finance that began as a teller in a local bank. He is now the owner of a small business and municipal consulting firm, North Valley Business Consulting, LLC. He has served on numerous local boards and is a member of the Swanton Fire Department.
The job of “whip” has a tradition of being a strong-arm position, counting votes and enforcing party discipline on key issues. Savage has a slightly different take on the position. “I much prefer the term ‘assistant minority leader’ to the ‘whip,” he says. “I see myself more [in the role of] ‘get the team together.’ If there’s some difference of opinion amongst the caucus, go in, find out what the issue might be, and then we’ll go from there and figure out a game plan.”
Savage sees communication as the biggest challenge he will face in the job. “We have to be talking to each other so that we all have a grasp or concept as to what’s going on first hand. Not he said, she said, I heard, they heard… We’ll work to get good solid information from good sources that our members can base their decisions on.”
“I’m pretty up front and straight forward,” Savage describes himself. “I do respect people’s decisions. They’re going to have to live with their votes, and there may be a very good reason they’re going to vote a certain way. As long as I’m truthful and up front with them, I expect them to be truthful and upfront with me, and I don’t anticipate there will be any problems.”
Savage flatly ruled out one communication tool utilized by his Democratic counterparts, and that is a sign displayed in the well of the House telling caucus members how to vote. “As far as a leader getting and putting a sign up there so that other people can see — Yes or No — I won’t do that. The [Republican] caucus has never done that while I’ve been in [the legislature.] We just do not do that. I do know that the Democrat caucus does. I’ve seen it, but it’s just not something that I would do.”
There will be plenty of opportunities in the 2012 legislative session to count votes on key bills, healthcare being at the top of the list. In 2011, all 48 Republicans in the House stood united against (ironically numbered) Act 48, the law authorizing Green Mountain Care. Major questions surrounding the law and its consequences still exist. (How will it be paid for? Who will foot the bill? What will the benefits package look like?) And Savage has a feeling the tension over Vermonters desire for answer versus the administration’s desire for secrecy will only grow once the session starts.
Energy is another issue Savage feels strongly about. “I have nothing against alternative energy, but, in my opinion, its never going to replace baseload power. We need baseload power, and alternative energy – wind, solar – is not going to replace baseload power.”
Savage had only good things to say about his predecessor, Patti Komline. “Patti did a wonderful job keeping the caucus together on a number of issues. She was also very good – and this is going to be a challenge coming into an election – at retention and recruiting…. It’s important to remember that she stepped down as Assistant Leader, but has not resigned her seat. She’s still going to be there, and probably sitting not too far from me. So, I look forward to tapping her for information or advice as things come up.”