Franklin Countys First News

Politics & Other Mistakes: Little king

Problem solved.

Al Diamon

Picking the next U.S. senator from Maine is a no-brainer, now that independent Angus King is officially in the race. Here’s a guy that everybody from the wackiest Tea Party fruitcake to the most zoned-out Occupy Maine flower child can support. Because unlike the gridlock-loving candidates of the major parties, this man espouses beliefs that are not only in line with the furthest extremes of political thought, but also those of the mushy middle.

How is that possible? Easy.

King, the former independent governor from 1995-2003, says he isn’t a liberal or a conservative. He’s always claimed he favors a pragmatic mix of political philosophies that results in him standing in the ideological center, leaning left on social issues, bearing right on fiscal matters. Or sometimes, the other way around.

He says that means he supports the same things most people in this state do. What could be better than that?

Except he doesn’t. And, come to think of it, neither do they.

It’s easy to see why King was a popular governor. He served during the greatest peacetime economic boom in U.S. history. The state gained more than 75,000 jobs. Budget surpluses totaled over $400 million. He cut the sales tax from 6 percent to 5. He expanded Medicaid and other welfare programs. He put laptops in classrooms, so kids could watch porn. And he carefully disengaged from the nastier political issues of the day, leaving such unseemly disputes to his underlings.

Although, if they happened to work out an acceptable compromise, he was quick to claim credit.

King waltzed through his eight years in office on the strength of his likable demeanor and superb communications skills. He gave a lot of speeches full of airy goals that today seem slightly absurd. He warned of the “downsides of prosperity,” in particular suburban sprawl and the loss of Maine’s essential character, as corporate types from major cities flocked here to co-opt our lifestyle and subvert our rural character. He told folks in depressed parts of the state that the answer to their problems was within themselves. By which he meant not to expect much help from Augusta, because the governor didn’t have a clue what to do.

You can get away with that stuff when there’s plenty of money to spread around. And until King’s final year, there was. He managed to spend hundreds of millions on all sorts of projects, boosting the state budget by nearly 90 percent. But in 2002, that came to an end. A nasty recession hit Maine, leaving a shortfall of almost $250 million.

King, the alleged fiscal conservative, emptied the state’s Rainy Day Fund. The socially liberal governor called for cuts in Medicaid and other human services programs. The financial hawk wanted to delay scheduled income tax cuts, and allow cities and towns to impose a local-option sales tax. But true to his left-wing side, he insisted on spending at least $25 million on those laptops.

Faced with these inconsistencies, King shrugged in that engaging manner he has and admitted his patchwork of financial gimmicks would leave his successor with a budget hole of at least $750 million (it turned out to be $1 billion). His recommendation: The next resident of the Blaine House could always raise taxes.

As King left office on the eve of the worst recession since the 1930s, he still had a rosy vision of the future. He said that by the time the new governor would be forced to deal with the unpaid bills he was leaving behind, the economic downturn would be over, and the money tap would be flowing again. He told Down East magazine that in the next decade (the one that’ll be over in January), Maine would gain 100,000 jobs, would have no casinos and its population would be “older, richer, more diverse.”

He was right about older.

The weird thing is the public bought his fairytale vision. King was so smooth behind the podium or in front of the camera that no matter how contradictory or silly his comments were, they came across as reasonable, even desirable. His approval rating nudged down slightly as the deficits mounted in 2002, but he was still the most popular politician in the state by a wide margin. If, as was rumored, he’d gone ahead with plans to run for the U.S. Senate that year, he probably would have won, and nobody today would even remember who Susan Collins was.

But he didn’t do it. Instead, he bought an RV and toured the country with his wife and kids. Eventually, he returned to Maine and got into the business of putting heavily subsidized wind turbines on previously pristine mountain tops.

As King wrapped up his administration, he told the Maine Sunday Telegram, “Almost certainly, I will not run for anything again. I’ve learned in this life you never say never, but I have absolutely no intention of running.”

Just enough wiggle room there, so no snarky columnist could someday dig up that quote and throw it in his face.

As I said, problem solved.

If you’ve got a beef with Angus as a senator, email me at

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

16 Responses »

  1. How right you are, Al. People only think King was good because the economy flourished. His actual policies and philosophies contributed in large part to today's financial mess in Maine. And the "independent" has surely enriched himself through his eco-ventures in the interim. No one can say he currently has the best intentions for our state, or our natural resources.

  2. Another great article by Al Diamon. It sure does remind us of things we may have forgotten. Now, on the other hand, could King be any worse, than what either political party will run for candidates? If not King, probably Baldacci, ouch!

  3. I've just started reading AK's original campaign book. It contains a number of appealing ideas. As far as I can determine so far none of the appealing ideas he put on paper were ever realized in office. I begin to suspect sucker -bait.

  4. Thank you Al for your enlightening bit of history. I doubt many people remember Angus KIng and his record. This is a good refresher. He doesn't appeal to me.

  5. Angus King raised the DHHS budget 50% - IN A SINGLE YEAR (1998). He is the cause of all the budget disasters of the following decade!

  6. “I must confess to considerable skepticism about the idea of turning our entire medical system over to the state.”
    “I am not confident that our political system will be able to provide the discipline to control health care costs.”
    “What has the government (national or state) done so well lately that makes us want to give them another 14 percent of our Gross National Product...and the power of life and death?’

    On the Canadian single-payer model:
    “...For two weeks during the 1993 Christmas holidays...all the hospitals in Ontario were closed because the province was out of money. That’s rationing with a vengeance.”
    “...there are many people in Canada who are willing to pay out of their own pockets for heath care in the United States—not exactly a vote of confidence in their system.”
    “...Canada has been experiencing medical cost escalation close to ours in recent years.”

    Angus King, Making a Difference, 1994.

    Sensible observations; so what has happened since that makes AK an Obama supporter?

  7. Please Mr Frary run for this senate seat!. Appoint Charlie Webster as your spokesman. It would be a huge benefit to working Maine folks if you would run against Angus King. Speak loudly and at great length! Keep Charlie in front of the cameras and microphones. Working families need to hear your wisdom. RUN!!

  8. DF, not a bad idea!

  9. ^^ this would be hilariously entertaining.

  10. Al, do you have a Blackberry?

  11. No, Bob, I don't. Even if I did, there's no service up here.

  12. Al we have missed your intellect since moving back to the Bangor area from Southern Maine. I remember when "he" said there were come a day when we under fund roads and schools in favor of expensive government provided healthcare. "He" must be back to finish the job - only for our own good of course.

  13. I spent considerable time around the State House during the gubernotorial reign of King. There were things that I found that I'll never forget;
    1. A governor that had no discourse with his citizenry. Even a courteous hello was an effort for this man unless your name was spelled corectly.

    2. A group of underlings who "did the job" in any manner they so chose, in fact, our present Governor's bullying style was used efficiently by many of the King staff.

    3. A real interest in businesses that were on the "cutting edge" and a quick disengagement when those same businesses hit the cutting floor.

    These are just the top 3 things I remember plus the populace who often swooned at the public appearances of King.

    Long live the King, in England or some other place than here.

  14. Great piece of writing!!!

  15. omg the state of maine the place wit no jobs,,send all your young and strong out of the state ,

  16. Just Google "Angus King Director" you will find that he is completely wrapped up with making money and maneuvering affairs so the taxpayers foot the bill.

    here we go
    founded this institute- or should I say feathered his nest on the taxpayers back.
    Micdl is a partner to the MSLN who purchase the laptops for schools in the state.

    Board of directors
    " Angus S. King III is Vice President for Mergers and Acquisitions at First Wind"

    Maines 1BN Dollar disaster of a laptop program. Is there any real proof that it works? has improved grades? improved jobs in Maine?
    Didn't think so.

    There will be a day when Idealism meets reality.