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.

King saw the Senate up close in those years, but it was a different place from what it is today. "There was a lot more comity then," says Hathaway, a liberal Democrat who was close friends with conservative Republican Orrin Hatch. "Republicans and Democrats worked pretty well together. We had different views, but we managed to reconcile our differences in ways that were palatable to all of us."

King counts Hathaway among his political mentors for the way he made political decisions. He recalls briefing the senator on a proposed measure to extend labor protection to fish cannery workers, and advising him, "If you vote for this, the women who benefit from it will never know, and the owners will hate your guts." King recalls Hathaway writing back, "I pay you for policy advice, not political advice" and later telling him that if he'd ever seen the conditions in the canneries, he would have no doubt how to vote.

"He's something like I am," Hathaway says of King. "I voted the way I thought was the best way to go and if my constituents didn't like it, I tried to explain it to them. If you're just trying to vote the way your constituents want on every issue, you're not being a leader and you shouldn't be there." (Hathaway lost his re-election bid to Rep. William S. Cohen in 1978.)

Another turning point in King's life came in February 1974 when, at 29, he was diagnosed with melanoma, a form of cancer with a 50 percent survival rate. It had been caught early in a routine physical, and he made a full recovery after undergoing surgery at the National Institutes of Health. He says it's why he supports the Affordable Care Act.

"Somewhere in this country is a grave of a guy who was situated exactly like me who didn't have insurance or a checkup, and he's gone," he says. "So how can I say I deserve to be alive and that guy doesn't? I just can't abide by that."

Birney says the cancer scare also brought them back to Maine. "There was this period of reflection that doesn't usually happen when you're in your early 30s: 'Where am I going and what am I doing?'" she says. "The question was: 'Do I stay and work on the Hill my whole life? Stay in Virginia and practice law?' But we had both liked Maine and had good friends there, and we had two kids then and it just seemed like it would be 'more family' and more time for the kids. Politics wasn't an angle."

That summer, the Kings moved to Topsham. King started a law practice in Brunswick that struggled initially. He became host of the progenitor of public television's "Maine Watch," was an instant success and stayed for 17 years. Television satisfied his political itch -- he had to immerse himself in a policy issue every week -- while a mix of small-town lawyering and Augusta lobbying (for the National Resources Council of Maine, Maine Audubon, the cable industry and others) kept food on the table.

He and Birney were divorced in 1982, but have remained on good terms. "I happen to know that he's highly moral and full of integrity," says Birney, who supports his Senate run. "I can't think of a better candidate."

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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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