Angus King Strolls to the Senate
He’s not that independent.

Angus King


Neal B. Freeman

Augusta, Maine — Well, at least he’ll have an opponent.

The two major parties nominated their candidates last night for Maine’s open U.S. Senate seat. For the GOP, it will be Charlie Summers, who, as a longtime aide to the retiring Olympia Snowe, is both well-connected and well-liked inside the party. An old-school plugger, he might make a race of it come November. For the Democrats, it will be Cynthia Dill, an underfunded state senator from the shrill Left. Her chances are currently calibrated at somewhere between Not Much and No Way. In polls to be released over the next few days, both Summers and Dill will doubtless trail independent Angus King by hefty, double-digit margins.

King is popular to a degree almost unknown in the flip-cam era, in which private indiscretions are recorded and drudged before the sweat dries. A recent poll measured King’s “favorables” at a remarkable 62–24, which puts him in a regional league with David Ortiz of the Red Sox and Tom Brady of the Patriots, not to mention Elizabeth Warren of the Indians. King is widely regarded as the prohibitive favorite for election to the seat being vacated by the nominally Republican Snowe, whose patience for partisan politics seemed to expire just as her constituents’ appetite for ideological clarity sharpened. King will run as an independent, beyond party entanglement and petty concern, so to say, parlaying his image as a frugal Yankee businessman. And you might as well commit that last phrase to memory. The Media Caucus, in solemn conclave assembled, seems to have passed a resolution mandating its inclusion in all stories about King.

While you wouldn’t know it to meet him now, King was born and raised in Virginia and graduated from the University of Virginia’s law school in Charlottesville. There is no trace of that King in this King. These days, he is dressed exclusively by the House of Bean: On public occasions, the former governor can almost always be found redundantly fleeced and sensibly mud-booted. You half-expect to see an L. L. Bean patch emblazoned on his barn jacket, in the manner of a professional golfer professing allegiance to an insurance company. When King salts his speeches with aphorisms from Aroostook County, it must be admitted even by the skeptics that King’s conversion from southern lawyer to Yankee businessman has been comprehensively realized.

About the frugal part, there’s more dispute. In 1994, running as an independent in a three-way race, King was elected governor. He served for two terms and, happily for all concerned, his tenure happened to coincide not only with a national boom but with a rare burst of Maine prosperity. During the King years, business was good, tax revenues flowed, and budget surpluses grew — to almost $400 million at one point. Best of all, the economy produced more than 75,000 new jobs, which, in a poor state with a population of only 1.3 million, amounted to a historic gusher. And yes, as he proudly asserts, Angus King governed in a nonpartisan style. He funded special-interest projects from the Left, from the middle, from the Right, and, when the buzz began to wear off, from supplicants not all that eager to identify themselves.

King’s penchant for the grandiose was for the most part well-contained. His signature program to equip seventh and eighth graders with laptop computers, he proclaimed, would “transform education.” Needless to say, it didn’t, but the hype was a rare crack in King’s new Yankee reserve. The facts, however, spoke loudly enough for themselves. During his eight years in Augusta, King ran up state spending by 90 percent and burned through the rainy-day fund. While not even the hard Left could come up with a plausible reason to do so during the boom years, yes, it remains true that King did not raise the (already confiscatory) marginal tax rates.