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
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 5)

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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's first foray into the business world came in 1983, when one of his clients hired him as vice president and general counsel. Swift River was the first of three alternative energy companies King would become involved in, and focused on rehabilitating or adding power plants at small-scale hydro dams. The company completed projects across New England but ran into controversy when it sought to refit an aging dam in Bangor. Regulators quashed the project to protect Atlantic salmon.

"I was told in that period to 'quit ruining our rivers, why don't you do windmills?'" King recalls. "Which is pretty bizarre because 20 years later I was doing windmills and people were saying, 'Quit ruining our mountains.'"

But as power from other sources became cheaper, Swift River's business model eroded. At a 1988 Christmas party, Swift River laid off 40 of its 44 employees, including King. He took a severance package that included the rights to a concept he'd been working on: selling conservation, rather than electricity, to utilities.

"The idea was if large users cut their usage, it left more power on the table for the utility to resell, as opposed to having to buy more," King says.

King says he gambled everything on the new business, taking a second mortgage on the house he owned with Mary Herman, former head of the Maine Women's Lobby, whom he married in 1984. She had been a social studies teacher and family planning advocate, but was familiar with energy issues in her role as a lobbyist for Central Maine Power. His company, Northeast Energy Management, ultimately bid for and won a competitive CMP contract to sell the utility power savings at rates roughly a third to half the cost of having to buy the same power.

It was a win-win situation for the environment, the utility, King and the large power consumers. King's company saved companies and institutions tens of thousands annually by upgrading inefficient lighting, blowers and other equipment. The utility avoided firing up generating plants with lower profit margins and higher carbon emissions. And Northeast Energy generated an ever-increasing revenue stream as more and more projects were completed.

"My concern wasn't with what King was doing or the idea of the (CMP) program -- which was a good idea -- but that there wasn't enough benefit to the ratepayers," says Gordon Weil, an energy consultant and one-time public advocate who was critical of the deal. "Under the way it was structured, he was probably the principal beneficiary. He didn't do anything wrong, but I think he got too much money out of this compared to what the customers got."

King sold the company in January 1994 to a Massachusetts-based competitor and personally netted $8 million after taxes. Suddenly, King had the wealth and time to do whatever he wished. He ran for governor as an independent.


King had briefly considered a run for Congress in 1986, but dropped the idea when former Gov. Joseph Brennan announced he was running. "I'd always been interested in politics and expected to be involved, but it just didn't happen because of children and a young family and I kind of gave up on the idea," King says. "Then all of a sudden all the stars were in alignment."

The next decade of King's life is relatively well-known. Capitalizing on public dissatisfaction with partisan dysfunction in Augusta (there had been a state government shutdown in 1991), King defeated Brennan and a little-known Republican, Susan Collins, in a tight three-way race. While governor he at one time or another irritated liberals by vetoing minimum-wage increases and social conservatives by backing gay rights initiatives. The economy was booming for much of his tenure. He was re-elected in 1998 by a 40-point margin.

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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.

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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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