December 30, 2012

U.S. Senate transitions: An incoming independent voice hopes to bridge the divide

Sen.-elect Angus King will work to reform filibuster rules, the banking sector and gun laws.

By Colin Woodard cwoodard@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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Angus King
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Sen.-elect Angus King, shown announcing that he will caucus with the Democrats, says he has been warmly received by colleagues from both major parties.

File photo/The Associated Press

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Sen.-elect Angus King speaks to campaign staff earlier this month before closing his campaign headquarters in Brunswick. As a member of the Rules Committee, he hopes to help rein in use of the filibuster.

Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

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"There's an important constitutional role of the Senate to protect minority rights" from the Senate or House majority's position, "but it's all a question of degree," King says. Our current Constitution grew out of frustration with the Articles of Confederation "because people realized somebody had to have the power to act. The danger of the abuse of the filibuster is that it moves us toward a government that can't act, and we need to act. We've got all these problems."

King has leverage on the issue, as he has a spot on the Rules Committee. He says he expects the Senate will act on the filibuster and, if it comes to it, he would vote to push through the necessary rules changes under a simple majority vote, an action consistent with the Constitution but one that has been called the "nuclear option" because rules changes have traditionally required a two-thirds majority. King says he believes a majority of his colleagues would back this approach if push came to shove.


The Rules Committee also has jurisdiction over campaign finance laws. King favors passage of the DISCLOSE Act, which would increase campaign finance disclosure requirements in federal elections; that idea died in the Senate in 2010.

"I'm trying not to view this in terms of whether it will help the Democrats or hurt the Republicans or vice versa," he says. "I'm trying to view this as how will this help the country."

In the wake of the Newtown school massacre, King also supports gun control measures, though he notes the weaknesses in the now-expired 1994 assault weapons ban, which grandfathered millions of existing weapons and was easy for manufacturers to evade by modifying designs to fall outside the law's language. Instead he says he's focused on the size of ammunition magazines.

"I want to sit down with the gun people, particularly in Maine, and hear why we need a 100-bullet magazine or a 30-bullet magazine. When you're hunting you get off one shot or two, not rapid fire," he says. "I want to get away from the ideology of it and do something that works."

He also said he disagrees with the argument that the solution to gun violence is arming more people.

Another issue likely to surface during his next term: ensuring the financial sector doesn't undergo another meltdown of the sort that triggered the "great recession" in 2008. King, who until recently served on the board of the Bank of Maine, says his approach would emphasize structural rather than regulatory reforms.

His dream fix: restoring the Glass-Steagall Act, the 1933 law that prohibited commercial banks from acting as investment banks and vice versa. It was progressively watered down and effectively repealed in 1999.

"For 70 years, Glass-Steagall protected us from what just happened, where we had to bail out the commercial banks because they were a fundamental part of the financial system of the world," he says. "Instead of approaching it from the point of view of regulation, it was a structural change, and you always do better if you can come up with structural solutions. Because no matter how you write regulations, people always find a way to get around them and distort things and have unintended consequences."

As a case in point, King offers the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010, Congress's primary response to the 2008 collapse to date. "Bangor Savings didn't cause the collapse, but Bangor Savings and the Bank of Maine and Androscoggin Savings are just being hammered by these regulations, which I saw the effect of firsthand" while on the Bank of Maine board, he says. With all of the added reporting requirements, "one of the consequences is that you're pushing these smaller institutions into the arms of the larger banks."

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Harry Reid, Angus King
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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada talks with Sen.-elect Angus King on Capitol Hill last month after King announced he will caucus with Democrats, adding to the party’s voting edge. King says he will remain independent.

File photo/The Associated Press


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