September 23, 2012

The making of a man without a party

The former governor's view of the world was shaped long before be ran for public office, and will likely continue to inform his choices.

By Colin Woodard cwoodard@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

ALEXANDRIA, Va. - On Capitol Hill in the late winter of 1975, a young, idealistic Senate aide named Angus King had a political epiphany while studying a bill on behalf of his boss, Democratic Sen. Bill Hathaway.

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Angus King hosts a Maine Public Television program in 1981.

Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram file photo

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JAN. 18, 1995: Newly elected Gov. Angus King bids goodbye to his wife, Mary Herman, as he departs his Brunswick home bound for Augusta. Colby College government professor Sandy Maisel, a Democrat, says King stepped into the role at the right time. “There was a great deal of dissatisfaction with government and partisanship, and Angus then and now had a nonconfrontational nature that was appealing and what the state was looking for,” Maisel says.

Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram file photo

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EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a series of profiles of the U.S. Senate candidates.

The bill, introduced by liberal lion Walter Mondale of Minnesota, was written in response to the drowning of a 15-year-old YMCA camper during a poorly planned canoe trip on the West Branch of the Penobscot River. But it contained measures King thought would devastate summer camps across the country, including rural Maine, where he had spent several years providing legal aid to the poor.

"It got down to how many latrines you had to have per camper and that the path to the waterfront had to be paved with a certain kind of paver, and I thought this is just stupid," he says of the sweeping safety regulations proposed in the bill, which prompted his break with Democratic Party orthodoxy. "I can almost date it from that moment, where I thought: The federal government and regulation is not the answer to everything. There are countervailing values."

It was one of several turning points in King's political evolution, marking an arc that carried him from being an idealistic young social activist in the tumult of the 1960s to a fiscally conservative, socially liberal two-term governor of Maine. Today, King is the front-runner in the race for the U.S. Senate, appealing to what he hopes remains a moderate majority in the center of Maine's electorate.

His record as governor and businessman and his positions on the issues are being parsed as the campaign unfolds and voters decide whom to support. But his view of the world was shaped long before he ever ran for public office and will continue to inform the choices he would make if elected to the U.S. Senate.

PERSONAL PHILOSOPHY

A charismatic leader since his teens -- at 17 he was elected "governor" of Virginia at the model government program, Boys State -- King's life turned at several points: the arrival of the civil rights movement in his home state and public high school; a brush with mortality at 29; and when the business startup he staked everything on took off.

A cancer survivor by age 30, a multimillionaire at 48, King has worked with the legal activists who ended debtor's prison in Maine, on Capitol Hill for a Democratic U.S. senator, and within a succession of green energy businesses, including one he founded and whose sale gave him the freedom and resources to pursue statewide office.

By that time, he had developed a personal political philosophy, one he says seeks to improve the lives of poor, working and middle-class people, but his approach has often put him at odds with one party or the other.

"I am uncomfortable with the Democrats because their first line of defense is regulation, tax the rich, government is the solution," he says. "I part company with where the current right wing of the Republican Party wants to go because we don't have to speculate on what an unbridled, unregulated economy looks like: We lived it. You had women and 12-year-olds working 16 hours a day at the Cabot Mills."

A generation ago, a person with King's views might have fit comfortably into the centrist wings of either party, but in today's more polarized political climate, he is a man without a party, seeking admission to a highly partisan legislative body.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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CIRCA 1980: Early in his career, King settled in Topsham and was a lawyer in Brunswick.

Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram file photo

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NOV. 9, 1994: Accompanied by his wife, Mary Herman, left, and their son Benjamin, then 4, Angus King holds up a copy of the Portland Press Herald on the day after he was elected governor.

Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram file photo

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JAN. 13, 1997: Gov. Angus King visits Mount View High School in Thorndike to demonstrate a network to electronically connect all Maine schools and libraries to each other and the Internet. King embraced technology in education, and while in office, he initiated the Maine Learning Technology Initiative, an effort to provide laptops for every public middle-school student in the state. The program was the first of its kind in the nation.

The Associated Press file photo by Robert F. Bukaty

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Born in 1944, King grew up in this brick two-story home in a leafy neighborhood on the slope of Seminary Hill on the outskirts of Alexandria, Va.

Colin Woodard photo

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Angus “Gus” King attended Hammond High School in Alexandria, Va., one of the first in the state to integrate.

Courtesy photo

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King, who was class president in both his junior and senior years, with an unidentified high school classmate.

Courtesy photo

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King's junior yearbook photo

Courtesy photo

  


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