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

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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.

Like many of his peers, King did a summer internship with one of Washington's corporate law firms, but shocked his mother by not applying for a job at graduation in 1969. Instead, he secured a Legal Aid fellowship and was given three choices: Maine, Louisiana or a Sioux reservation in South Dakota. His Yankee bride lobbied for Maine because of the similarities to western New Hampshire, where they'd met. (Bizarrely, one of his would-be Legal Aid colleagues in South Dakota, Bill Janklow, later became that state's governor.)

Together, the Kings moved to a town he'd never set foot in -- Skowhegan -- where he was assigned to the staff of Pine Tree Legal Assistance. They would live three years in the Skowhegan area, where their son Angus III was born and where they built a Buckminster Fuller-designed geodesic dome as a weekend cottage.

In western Maine the young lawyers encountered situations nearly as shocking as those King found in central Virginia. In Farmington, they discovered people were being interned in debtors' prison. "It was a total dungeon at the time, really cold and dank, and there was this guy who was there because he couldn't pay his hospital bill," recalls King's colleague Michael Gentile, who successfully challenged the practice in court and is now a partner at the law firm Preti Flaherty.

"I thought this sort of thing had been done away with for 200 years, but here was Franklin County Hospital putting them in jail something regular," he says.

Gentile recalls King as being idealistic, "but not as much as some of them. He wasn't a firebrand or a bomb thrower."

In a 1971 interview with the Bangor Daily News, King conveyed a mix of idealism and practicality, waxing poetic about the promises of the Declaration of Independence and later on the need to avoid "a we-they attitude toward the establishment" to be effective.

"We've run into a hornet's nest representing people who've never been represented before," King told the reporter. "We're running up against interests which have had their own way for 500 to 600 years. They don't like it when we throw a monkey wrench into their business."

"It is interesting nationally that our two severest critics are the extreme right and the extreme left elements in our society," he added. "The extreme right because we rock the boat and the extreme left because we make the system work."

King says that in Skowhegan he began to see the limits of what Legal Aid could accomplish. "I remember having this conscious realization that people came into office with problems this big" -- he stretches his hands far apart -- "but their legal problem was this big" -- he closes them to within six inches.

"I could deal with their legal problems, but I couldn't deal with their lack of dental care, their lack of care for an autistic child, their total lack of education, all these other things," he says. "It made me think: If you're going to help people, you're going to have to try to deal with a larger segment of who they are. So I went to work for Bill Hathaway."

KING ON THE HILL

In 1972, King and his wife joined the campaign staff of Bill Hathaway, a Lewiston lawyer challenging Republican U.S. Sen. Margaret Chase Smith. King acted as Hathaway's driver and, after their upset victory, as a staffer on the Senate Labor Committee in Washington.

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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.

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King's junior yearbook photo

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