April 14, 2013

King’s first 100 days: ‘The hardest I’ve ever worked in my life’

Remaining wide-eyed in a place that thrives on cynicism, Maine's independent senator makes an impression on both sides of the aisle.

By Bill Nemitz bnemitz@pressherald.com
Columnist

(Continued from page 1)

Today's poll: Angus King

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In the rotunda of the Russell Senate Office Building, Maine Sen. Angus King waits to begin a remote interview with TV news host Chris Matthews of MSNBC after a vote in the chamber Thursday.

Photos by Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

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Maine’s independent senator arrives at the Capitol in Washington on Thursday. King lives about four blocks away and walks to work every morning.

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Yet the positive early reviews extend across the aisle as well.

"He's a serious member of the Armed Services Committee. I noticed that he almost never misses a hearing or a meeting," said Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the second-ranking Republican on the committee. "And I've been very impressed with him. He wants to be a senator in the Maine tradition and I think he's living up to it."

• • • • •

Like many in the Senate's freshman class, King has yet to be assigned a permanent office -- he hopes to get one by midsummer.

His temporary digs, just down the hall from Snowe's old sprawling suite, consist of a small personal office flanked by an open room, no bigger than most veteran senators' outer lobbies.

There, King's staff of close to two dozen aides -- most less than half his age -- sit cheek-to-jowl amid a warren of wooden desks. To the first-time visitor, the bunker-like atmosphere feels more like a campaign war room than a hall of government.

So meager is his space that King must go searching each week for a conference room to accommodate his Wednesday-morning coffees with Mainers visiting the Capitol. Last week's gathering attracted about 30 people, ranging from a Maine People's Alliance delegation in town for an immigration-reform rally to the Little family of Lewiston -- parents Todd and Jackie, Nathan, 10, and Kristen, 8 -- on a weeklong tour of Washington.

"Dear Mr. Belleau," wrote King in a note to Nathan's teacher. "Please excuse Nathan. He was helping me make laws for the country."

"They won't keep you after school now," a smiling King assured Nathan as he signed the souvenir and moved on to talk logging, immigrants' path to citizenship and whatever other issues brought his constituents from Maine to Capitol Hill.

"I see over 100 people from Maine every week," King said as he hurried from the coffee to a Senate Budget Committee hearing on the Obama administration's nomination of Sylvia Matthews Burwell to serve as director of the Office of Management and Budget. (He wanted to ask Burwell's thoughts on reducing the deficit by driving down the cost of federally funded health care.)

The pace, particularly for a man who turned 69 on March 31, is frenetic -- half the big business of the nation, half the many and varied concerns of the people who sent him here.

In addition to budget and armed services, King sits on the Senate's intelligence and rules committees, often ducking into an anteroom during committee sessions to meet with the endless stream of constituents seeking a moment of his time.

(One such break from the budget hearing last week focused on a special grade of paper, produced by a mill in Madawaska, on which informational inserts for pharmaceutical products are printed -- the visitors sought King's support in resisting efforts to move from the hard-copy to online advisories. Another short sit-down, during an armed services confirmation hearing, was with a group of gastroenterologists.)

His posture during such visits is hardly King the esteemed senator, holding court with this or that suitor for his time or influence. Rather, he seems to reach back to his days, long before he ran for anything, as the host of Maine Public Broadcasting Network's "Maine Watch" program -- a curious interviewer seeking the facts and context behind a constituent's painstakingly prepared talking points.

"It's exhausting at times," King admitted after yet another meet-and-greet with a group of teenage girls from Maine's 4-H program. "Being that 'on' all the time, one group after another, it takes a lot out of you."

(Continued on page 3)

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Additional Photos

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Nathan Little, 10, of Lewiston, who was visiting Washington with his mother, Jackie, and 8-year-old sister, Kristen, reacts Wednesday after Sen. Angus King asks him what kind of work senators do. King wrote a note for his teacher, explaining that Nathan should be excused from school since he was helping King with his work in Washington.

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Shortly before a vote on the gun-control debate in the Senate on Thursday, Sen. Angus King speaks with some of the parents of victims from the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting last December.

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Joined by Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., left, Sen. Angus King participates Thursday in a weekly radio program sponsored by WGAN radio. It was one of several media events that followed the Maine senator’s already lengthy workday on the Senate floor.

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Sen. Angus King speaks with Mainers Jimmy Carrier, left, and Bob Hamer on Wednesday during Capitol Coffee with Angus, a weekly session King holds for his constituents in Washington, D.C.

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Sen. Angus King addresses members of his staff in their cramped, temporary office space in a basement room of the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington on Wednesday. The group of almost two dozen aides is hoping to move into bigger quarters by midsummer.

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In a TV studio in the basement of the Capitol, Maine Sen. Angus King waits for the start of an online meeting with students at Bucksport High School on Wednesday. He spoke to the teens about his experiences as a senator over the past three months and answered their questions.

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The senator strolls past a larger-than-life statue of William King – Maine’s first governor – in the Capitol’s Statuary Hall on Thursday. For an unabashed student of history, there simply is no better place on Earth to report for work each day. Says the 69-year-old senator: “The circumstances call forth the energy.”

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During a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday, Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, and Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., listen as Gen. Philip M. Breedlove answers questions as part of his confirmation process. The freshman senators bonded quickly after arriving in Washington. Both are former governors and they serve on two committees together. Breedlove is nominated for the post of commander, United States European Command, and supreme allied commander, Europe.

Staff Photographer

 


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Today's poll: Angus King

Do you think Sen. Angus King has done a good job in his first 100 days in office?

Yes

No

View Results