Jon Wertheim talks to Angus King, Senator from Maine, one of two independents in the Senate, about not being tied to any party of extreme polarization
The state of Maine joined the union on a compromise – the Missouri Compromise of 1820.Since then, Maine has been a bag of political moderation and political flexibility that swings from left to right and back again. In the November election, Maine Peak Maine, the only US. State to elect a president from one party while a senator is elected by another At a time when “polarized” doesn’t paint the depth of the division in the country, we looked north and consulted Maine’s deceptively powerful Senator Angus King, a registered independent who was not committed to any major party and at the age of 76 the no ambition of a higher office.His colleagues see him as a fortune teller and a voice of reason.And perhaps we can turn to him as a guide for repairing the tattered tissue of both the Senate the United States as well as the country as a whole
Who is Angus King? He’s not the more prominent of the two senators from his state (that’s Susan Collins). He’s not the more prominent of the two independents in the Senate (that’s Bernie Sanders). He’s not even the most prominent man named King from his state (that would be Stephen, the writer) But Angus King is something like Atticus Finch on a Harley. A motorcyclist who goes duck hunting and listens to the radio in public without being encumbered by party politics
We spoke to him in his office the morning after the attack on the Capitol. He was angry with President Donald Trump
Angus King: The first thing that crossed my mind was the old quote from Hosea, the Old Testament prophet who said, “He who sows the wind will reap the whirlwind” and the president did three or four months sown the wind, and yesterday we reaped the whirlwind
Angus King: I do. Words have consequences, and the higher up you are in the hierarchy, the more consequences the words have. And the President of the United States has the bullying pulpit
He also directed a lot of anger at his peers, particularly the 14 Republican senators who questioned electoral college vote certification, a stunt, says King, that stirred up the rioters. King called Josh Hawley of Missouri and Ted Cruz out Texas, whom he considers a friend
Angus King: I’m disappointed because he knows better. He’s a really smart guy. I find it interesting that he and Hawley are probably in the top 10% IQ in the US Senate And that makes it less excusable what they did because they knew damn well that what they were doing was wrong and that it was against the interests of this country
Jon Wertheim: This electoral college vote was supposed to be a certificate, a formality It was it was something completely different. What about your colleagues who went through it?
Angus King: You got it wrong And it was a ploy to put their names in the roles of “I’m loyal to Donald Trump” It was a deeply unp – patriotic act on my mind
Angus King: I don’t sympathize, I don’t support, I disagree, I don’t authorize what you’ve done, but I get it Because you’ve been on talk radio with the president, the media you’re listening to Months before the election it was said that – the whole thing was inadmissible. They couldn’t trust the courts, they couldn’t trust Congress, they couldn’t trust the media
As vigorously as he condemns the unrest, he has seen in his own state how many Americans feel that the country – and the world – have passed them by
Angus King: You know, in Maine, for example, we have these little towns in rural Maine that were literally built around paper mills that did a great job in one of the communities I can think of worked 5000 people in the mill, and that – now the mill is gone. And these are people who worked hard. They paid their dues. They did what they were supposed to, and yet the world was pulled out from under them
Ask King the source of his unique political burden, and he will tell you that geography is destiny even though he grew up in the D.C. Angus King has lived in Maine for more than half a century, arriving as a public interest attorney in his 20s and later becoming a successful entrepreneur Beyond Lobsters and Lighthouses, he caught on in Maine’s ethos during the Christmas break we ventured to the top right corner America and visited him in his hometown of Brunswick
Jon Wertheim: You said Maine is like a big little town. What did you mean by that?
Angus King: If you’re from Maine and you stop on the New Jersey Turnpike for gasoline and the car next to you has a Maine sign, I guarantee you can find someone in 30 seconds They know together “Where are you from?” “Waterville” Do you know Joe Jabber? “” He’s my cousin “(LAUGHING) I mean, this is Maine The people know each other And there is still a sense of community and mutual care
Angus King: For one, a bit of geographic isolation, if you’re in a small town and in a store, all there is is repeat business, as we say up here, you have to get people right or they won’t come back that generates – a sense of community and – and relationship and – and a kind of reciprocity of – goodwill
King made his fortune when he sold his energy consultancy business in the 1990s, assuming he’d finally hit the gas again and bet a few miles on his Harley, which he still uses to cross state and visit voters to this day.
Angus King: I’ve found that you can learn from anyone I’ve spent a lot of time on a motorcycle, and – you know, with a lot of guys and – and – and – and women – you know, those different views when I – I was with a bunch of different people, you know? And – and by the way, they told me, one of one of them said: “Angus, you will always be a driver, you will never be a biker” (LAUGHING) Even though I had the leather jacket
Restless, in 1994 he used his own money to run for governor of the state, a long shot in a field of 13 candidates. At that point, the king, a lifelong Democrat, made the decision to run for Independent
Angus King: I was not comfortable with the – with the Democrats – on the tax and regulatory side. I was not comfortable with the Republicans on the social issues, abortion and the like. So I said, ” Hell, I think I’ll take a path in the middle “
Angus King: Yes sir I always said I have I have no automatic friends in the legislature. But I also have no enemies. I have 186 skeptics
In his first race, and in an ironic twist, he beat Susan Collins, now his Senator.After two terms as governor of Maine, he thought it was time to retire again.But in 2012, Maine’s Olympia Snowe abruptly left the U.S. Senate, frustrated by the grip and the stalemate King made a bid for their place and remained independent despite commitments from both parties
Jon Wertheim: What can you do as an independent that you couldn’t do if you had to join a party?
Angus King: Well, it kind of frees you because you don’t have to do what the party says you don’t have to worry that the main people in charge of the party will be mad at you. With that in mind, it’s a luxury
Angus King: Yes, and I’m just trying to find sensible solutions. What will work, that interests me and not the ideology
In Washington, King meets with the Democrats, but a 2019 GovTrack ranking made him 42nd most liberal – or 58 Most Conservative – Senator MadeAnd as an independent, he can avoid the devil business associated with party politics
Jon Wertheim: I’ve heard that this is almost described as a changing room in sports where they say you can’t give the other side a win
Angus King: Well, the effect is to split ourselves into suspicious, armed camps where everything is a zero-sum game of us – we win and they lose, or vice versa
Jon Wertheim: As long as the Senate is 50/50 and we have this – this knife edge – there is pressure from “Hey, King, are you picking a party yet”? Do you think you will be under pressure to have an R or D next to your name?
Angus King: I don’t think so, no, because when I came here and spoke to Harry Reid, who was the Democratic leader at the time, I said, “Look, I’m going to vote with you on the organization of the Senate, but I’ll make my own calls on other issues. And you have to leave me alone “
And he said, “Don’t worry, we will” And actually Harry Reid only asked me for two votes in four years. On the one hand, I wanted to vote with him anyway, on the other, I said no. Well, it I have to be honest because my Republican friends are looking at this and they will say, “He really is a Democrat, come on”
Angus King: I am saying that the Republicans haven’t given me much to vote lately
King has stopped flying since the pandemic, instead he drives the nine hours between D.C. and Maine, where his wife Mary lives and works, as do three of his five children Returning to Washington on January 1st after this hiatus, it looks barely noticeable New President And after last week’s Georgia runoff election, a new party controls the Senate
Jon Wertheim: Does a unified government, the same party, the same house, the Senate, the White House help or hinder this healing that we were talking about?
Angus King: If the Democrats were 60 and literally what they wanted to happen, that would be a very different situation. It will still require bipartisan work. And I’ll tell you who the real winners are, people like Susan Collins are and Lisa Murkowski – I hope myself, Joe Manchin
Jon Wertheim: It seems to me that I am now positioning myself between the 40-yard lines This is suddenly a pretty healthy place
Angus King: Compromise is the essence of human experience.By the way, the Constitution itself is full of compromise The– the US. The Senate was the product of a compromise
And Senator King has advice on how his colleagues on the left might deal with the 70 million+ Americans who voted for Trump
Angus King: There’s a term I’ve always liked to refer to as “eloquent listening” “You need to be listened to, and we need to try to understand what’s going on. It’s culturally and economically, I mean, it’s one very complicated matter, but we cannot simply dismiss it –
Jon Wertheim: Do you fear that some of your colleagues on the left will rule with an element of retaliation? So gross, you know, karma is a you know what, and after four years of a president they berated and Republican senators who they think made it possible and an attack on your workplace this week, that – this pendulum I’ll whip back the other way
Angus King: You can’t just say “no harm, no foul” and pretend nothing never happened. On the other hand, I don’t think it’s productive, through retaliation, or through some element of vengeance, or to be motivated by something else
Jon Wertheim: How do you thread this needle? You don’t want people to feel unheard, but you don’t want to believe what is factually not true either. Objective truth must matter
Angus King: Yeah, and – and you – you, I guess you just have to try But Stuffing things down your throat certainly won’t help
Jon Wertheim: How do we import these properties from Maine, from of calm and – and measured and sensible Maine? How do we import this to Washington, DC.?
Angus King: I think these traits are found all over America, but in many parts of America, and we just have to try to ring the common sense bell
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