By Kevin Miller
Washington Bureau Chief
WASHINGTON - After months of campaign pledges to work to fix the "broken" Senate, Sen. Angus King got his first chance last week to vote on one of the biggest reasons he said the chamber needs fixing: the filibuster.
Filibuster reform also could have been the first major test of the new senator's independence from the Democratic leadership with whom he caucuses.
King, a Maine independent, had joined a group of mostly newer Democratic senators pushing hard for sweeping reforms that included going back to the required "talking filibuster" and putting the onus on the minority party -- the Republicans, at present -- to keep a filibuster going rather than require the majority party to break it. But those proposals were strongly opposed by Republicans and some Democrats, putting Senate Majority Harry Reid, D-Nev., in a tough spot.
Instead, Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., worked out a compromise amenable to both parties. It passed with strong bipartisan support, including King's.
In an eight-minute video he posted on YouTube, King said the compromise was less than he wanted but was a solid step in the right direction that "perhaps, maybe, hopefully" will lead to more collaboration and cooperation between the parties. And King still earned kudos from the group Fix the Senate Now, despite their labeling the compromise as a "missed opportunity."
"Senator King not only lived up to his campaign promises to support Senate rules reform if elected, but he also has emerged as a leader in the ongoing effort to improve the health and functioning of our democracy," the group said afterward.
Whether the filibuster reform compromise approved Thursday will actually fix anything, however, is still an open question, as King acknowledged.
"I may be totally wrong and two months from now may be the most frustrated guy around," King said. "But right now, I have a little flame of optimism that we may have turned a small corner around here and can get back to doing the people's business."
RNC OLIVE BRANCH?
Another Mainer fell short of his goal of shaking things up at the Republican National Committee last week, although he insisted he got his message across nonetheless.
Mark Willis had hoped to challenge Reince Priebus, the current RNC chairman, during Friday's Republican leadership elections in Charlotte, N.C. It was a long-shot bid from the start, and Willis, who is from Dennysville, never picked up the support he needed to qualify for the election.
Only two of the RNC's 168 members voted against Priebus' re-election: Willis and Ashley Ryan, who together make up two of Maine's three representatives on the national committee.
Willis and Priebus talked afterward. "He said, 'I'm sorry I didn't get your vote, but let's work together,'" said Willis, a part of the "Liberty movement" within the Republican Party that supported U.S. Rep. Ron Paul's presidential bid. "I want to see how all of this goes and I hope we can get it done."
MORE POLL RESULTS
The North Carolina firm Public Policy Polling released survey results last week showing Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, with a 60 percent or higher approval rating among Republicans, independents and even Democrats. But here are a few other findings of the PPP survey of 1,200-plus Maine voters:
• 55 percent of Mainers support banning assault weapons. But not surprisingly, the political demographics are lopsided, with nearly 80 percent of Democrats supporting the ban and 26 percent of Republicans in opposition.
• President Obama's approval rating was 54 percent. Lance Armstrong's, however, was 9 percent.
• Sen. Angus King got good marks from 44 percent and poor marks from 25 percent of poll participants, with 31 percent undecided.
Collins will break into the top 25 in terms of Senate seniority when Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts steps down to become secretary of state, as anticipated. But the ranks above Collins will likely thin out even more after 2014, assuming Collins runs again (as expected) and wins (also expected). Two senior senators -- Democrats Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia and Tom Harkin of Iowa -- announced recently that they won't seek re-election.
Washington Bureau Chief Kevin Miller can be contacted at 317-6256 or at:
On Twitter: @KevinMillerDCTweet