PORTLAND — U.S. Sen. Angus King quoted philosophers, Founding Fathers and presidents in making his first speech from the floor on Wednesday and touched on the nature of conflict and the need for lawmakers to rise above it to act in the best interests of the American people.
Calling for bipartisan action, the independent former governor from Maine told his fellow senators that the greatest accomplishments of the Senate and the federal government were rarely won by a single party.
“They were based on hard-fought battles and grudging compromise, recognition of national needs along with local interests, and a willingness to honor our most basic charge ‘to form a more perfect union,'” he said, quoting the preamble of the Constitution. “I hope in a small way to contribute to this.”
King, who caucuses with Democrats, campaigned for the seat vacated by former Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe on the theme that the Senate is broken and he wanted to serve as a bridge between the parties.
The former lecturer at Bowdoin College struck a professorial tone as he quoted humorist and author Mark Twain, journalist Bill Moyers, President Abraham Lincoln, the British philosopher Lord Acton, and Thomas Jefferson to make his points.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., praised the freshman senator from Maine afterward, saying “he has an insight into this nation which we should all hear.”
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, called it a “fascinating maiden speech” that managed to put modern debates into historical context.
King said “tensions are hardwired into the system” but parties can come together to reach consensus. Talking about inherent conflict in government, King returned to the Civil War president as he ended the speech with a quote from Lincoln’s annual message to Congress in 1862:
“The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.”
The 69-year-old King was Maine’s governor for two terms between 1995 and 2003, establishing credentials as someone who could work with both parties. Before that, he spent 18 years as a commentator on the Maine Public Broadcasting Network, reporting and analyzing state public policy issues.
Collins said she appreciated King’s reference to Lincoln’s encouragement to “think anew and act anew.”
“That advice, as Senator King noted, applies today just as surely as it did during President Lincoln’s time. We face many challenges ahead, and I look forward to working closely with Senator King to address the needs of our nation and our great state of Maine,” she said.